New law school graduates whose shot at the bar exam got pushed back due to the coronavirus can still do the work of paraprofessionals and assistants, according to an advisory opinion by the Illinois State Bar Association.
ISBA’s Professional Conduct Committee approved an opinion last week pointing to rules already on the books that allow licensed lawyers to delegate certain tasks to non-lawyers.
Although they still generally can’t represent clients in court, the three-page ethics opinion noted new grads can still do legal research, offer legal conclusions, interview witnesses and clients and prepare documents — as long as an attorney retains responsibility for the work.
“Accordingly, we believe law school graduates may undertake many activities, under the supervision of a licensed lawyer, that do not run afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Indeed, many of the normal activities of first year associates in a law firm consist of activities that nonlawyers also routinely perform,” the opinion states.
The Illinois Supreme Court postponed the bar exam, originally scheduled for July 28-29, until Sept. 9-10, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several other states took similar steps.
The opinion issued by the ISBA Wednesday specifically cited Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, 5.1, 5.3, 5.5, 8.4(a), which state lawyers may delegate certain tasks to paraprofessionals, hire non-lawyers and discuss how to supervise new attorneys.
It also cited opinions from the Pennsylvania, Iowa and South Carolina bar associations, which generally state that law graduates can perform general clerical duties, sign correspondence for firms, gather information and prepare and file documents.
“With the supervision of a licensed supervisory lawyer, a law school graduate awaiting the bar exam or admission to the bar may perform many of the services normally performed by licensed first year associates, provided that the law school graduate and the law firm do not provide any false or misleading statements about the law school graduate’s status,” the ISBA opinion concludes.