Illinois Bar Journal

March 2016Volume 104Number 3Page 20

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Expanding law-student practice opportunities to the private sector

An ISBA proposal would allow qualified students to practice under the supervision of an attorney in the private sector, not just in legal aid or other governmental settings.

Law students and recent, unlicensed graduates can gain practical experience as attorneys before they graduate and pass the bar exam. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711 currently allows senior law students and recent grads to counsel clients, appear in court, and otherwise engage in legal practice under attorney supervision in public interest or service areas such as legal aid clinics, the public defender's office, or a law office of the state of Illinois or its subdivisions.

A proposed amendment to Rule 711 would expand its scope to allow senior students and recent graduates to practice in the private sector as well. The ISBA Assembly approved the proposal for submission to the Illinois Supreme Court on December 12, 2015.

The ISBA Special Committee on Rule 711 was created by ISBA President Umberto S. Davi and chaired by Judge Michael Chmiel, who sits on the Circuit Court for the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit in McHenry County. The committee consisted of Judge Chmiel, a law professor, two law students, and eight practicing attorneys.

Its recommendation parallels observations made by the ISBA Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Curriculum & Student Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services, which also recommended expanding Rule 711 to private practice (see at 76; see also Your ISBA in this issue).

The Special Committee's report states that "law school graduates must be equipped with practice-ready skills to succeed in today's legal marketplace. It is no longer sufficient for law school graduates to merely think like lawyers; they must be able to perform the basic tasks central to legal practice." The report identifies several areas in which law graduates need to improve their skills, many of which involve basic lawyering skills such as written and oral communication, drafting basic legal documents, and understanding the flow of a civil case.

Judge Chmiel says that expanding the scope of Rule 711 will help to achieve this goal, creating practice-ready attorneys. "Unlike other professions, there is no requirement that a person serve a residency after graduating and passing the bar exam," he notes. Chmiel believes that expanding the rule to private practice presents a "host of opportunities to perhaps make attorneys more employable, give students more opportunity to experience practice areas, broaden their scope of options, and create a greater desire to work under Rule 711."

Expanding beyond not-for-profit practice

By opening 711 practice to the private sector, it may help create interest where there was none before. Students who are not interested in public or not-for-profit sector work currently cannot use Rule 711 to gain experience. Chmiel believes that this has prevented some students from availing themselves of the opportunity.

Chmiel hopes expanding the rule's reach will create a "greater interest level for students." Currently, there may be some lack of awareness about the rule's existence, or a lack of interest among law students.

Some students "have no interest in prosecuting or working in a legal aid clinic," he says. "By having a greater portion of the student body under 711, those who aren't [currently practicing under the rule] will be inspired to do it as well."

Practicing under Rule 711 allows students to truly practice law, not just write legal memoranda and do research. 711 clerks for the City of Chicago may defend the city during mandatory arbitration, for example.

"We want to get law students into the courtroom so they have that experience," says President Davi. "This provides a way for students to have that opportunity while also getting supervision from a practicing attorney." It remains to be seen whether the Illinois Supreme Court will adopt the proposed changes.

Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.

Member Comments (1)

I suppose with proper control over the attorneys who may supervise students, this may be beneficial. However, under the current rule there are opportunities for students to practice all of the skills that are necessary to be "practice ready" even without a 711 license.
I suspect that the real impetus for this suggested rule change is the desire on the part of solo and small firm practitioners to use their law clerks to answer court calls and otherwise cover the firm's volume of cases. This is a poor substitute for a residency. Law clerks already may provide research and drafting services for their firms. They may do anything that a paralegal may do even without a 711 license. Before adopting this change, the Supreme Court should consider the following:
--how many students an attorney can supervise properly
--whether attorneys who have been disciplined should be allowed to supervise students.
--whether client consent should be required
--whether students practicing under Rule 711 should have the same obligation as licensed attorneys to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
--who will administer this program.

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