The Illinois Supreme Court Rules govern who may be permitted to practice law in Illinois and before every court therein. All applicants, whether seeking admission to the bar on examination, or by motion, must meet the educational requirements specified in Rule 703. Among other requirements, Rule 703 provides, "...each applicant shall have pursued a course of law studies and fulfilled the requirements for and received a first degree in law from a law school approved by the American Bar Association."
In dissent to Rule 703, Justice Heiple famously wrote the following:
I both dissent and object to these rules because they represent an improper delegation of a governmental and judicial function to a trade association of lawyers.It is the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar--a public body, rather than the American Bar Association--that approves the colleges and universities at which applicants are required to complete at least 90 semester hours of acceptable college work before pursuing a course of law studies. The Board also reviews for acceptability the quality of preliminary, college, and legal education of applicants who received their legal education and law degree in foreign countries.
The American Bar Association is a voluntary association of dues paying lawyers (currently $225 per annum) that exists for the benefit of its members. No lawyer is required to belong. Most do not. It clothes its parochial existence with an overlay of public activities and pronouncements designed to convince the general public that it is interested in the general welfare. That its primary focus is the benefit of its members, however, is beyond question. That the American Bar Association is a trade association warrants neither commendation nor condemnation. As a trade association engaging in improving the status of lawyers and lobbying Congress and the State legislatures, it is on a par with any other trade association. It is decidedly not, however, an arm of the State of Illinois nor of this court.
It is improper for this court to assign and delegate to that organization the ultimate decisionmaking function of deciding for the State of Illinois which law schools warrant official recognition. It would be proper, of course, for this court and its Board of Law Examiners (now, Board of Admissions to the Bar) to consider and weigh the evaluations of the American Bar Association in considering which law schools are to be approved. The work of the American Bar Association in evaluating law schools could be considered as relevant evidence in that regard. No objection could be raised to that procedure.
This court, however, has no right to delegate its decisionmaking function to the American Bar Association, the Teamsters Union, the Republic of Uganda or any other such body or group. If the rule asserts a valid principle of law, then this court could as well assign all of its decisionmaking functions to others who might be considered experts in their field.
There are currently a mere 9 law schools approved by the American Bar Association in the State of Illinois; and if you aren't able to personally attend classes in Chicago, Champaign, DeKalb, or Carbondale, you may be out of luck, because, as a matter of policy, the American Bar Association does not approve distance education programs in law.
This policy is at odds with those who believe that distance education programs in law can offer the same level of quality and education as can traditional programs. The University of London, in England--the country upon who's tradition our legal system is based--as well as many others, offer a similar degree in law, without discrimination between traditional and distance education students; and these degrees are considered perfectly normal and acceptable for the purpose of practicing law in the United Kingdom and other common law counties.
In California, a public body known as the Committee of Bar Examiners, has approved a number of law schools not approved by the American Bar Association, including distance education programs (Some of these are computer based, and some are otherwise.) While a graduate of one of these programs may be permitted to practice law in California, according to Rule 703, they won't be permitted to do so in Illinois. In addition, if you're thinking about enrolling in the University of London's distance education program in law, or any other program in a foreign country, know that the Illinois Supreme Court Rules require you to also have been practicing law actively and continuously for at least five of the last seven years before admission here.
Consider the ongoing promotion of the Illinois Virtual Campus service and the fact that Abraham Lincoln never attended a law school approved by the American Bar Association.
Here are some questions for readers to answer in their comments:
1. Does the Illinois Supreme Court's delegation, and the American Bar Association's refusal to approve distance education programs in law, (a) limit the number of law schools in Illinois, (b) limit the number of licensed attorneys in Illinois, (c) drive up the cost of either due to limited supply in the face of constant demand, or (d) none of the above? Does the current arrangement make Illinois less competitive in the area of legal education?
2. Do you believe that the current arrangement best serves the interests of (a) current attorneys, (b) the public at large, (c) both, or (d) neither?
3. Do you believe that distance education programs in law can offer the same quality and education as traditional in-classroom programs? How does this affect your opinion on the Illinois Virtual Campus service currently being offered by the University of Illinois?
4. Should (a) the Illinois Supreme Court amend Rule 703 to read "law school approved by the Board of Admissions to the Bar" rather than "law school approved by the American Bar Association", (b) the American Bar Association start approving distance education programs in law, (c) something else, or (d) none of the above?