The ISBA has approved an ethics opinion that says recent law school graduates who have not yet taken the bar exam can perform many of the services normally performed by licensed first-year associates as long as they are being properly supervised by a licensed lawyer.

The Illinois Supreme Court earlier this month announced that the Illinois bar exam, originally scheduled for July 28-29, has been rescheduled to September 9-10 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. ISBA Advisory Opinion No. 20-01, which was approved on May 5, interprets the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct to allow recent law school graduates to perform services typically performed by licensed first-year associates.

In writing the opinion, the ISBA Professional Conduct Committee relied on Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct 5.1, 5.3, 5.5, and 8.4(a).

The Committee noted that Comment 2 to Rule 5.5 states that the Rule “does not prohibit a lawyer from employing the services of para-professionals and delegating functions to them, so long as the lawyer supervises the delegated work and retains responsibility for their work.” The opinion maintains that recent law school graduates fall within the definition of a para-professional.

The Committee also pointed to Rule 5.3, which also provides that lawyers may employ nonlawyer assistants in their practice.

“Similar to the obligations of supervisory lawyers supervising subordinate lawyers pursuant to Rule 5.1, supervising lawyers of nonlawyer assistants must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer assistant’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer,” the opinion states.

The opinion notes that graduates may undertake a number of activities under the supervision of licensed lawyer that do not violate the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

“For example, law school graduates may conduct legal and factual research, offer legal conclusions under the supervision of a lawyer, interview witnesses and clients, and prepare legal documents and pleadings for a lawyer’s signature,” the opinion states.