How to Become a Lawyer in Illinois: Education Requirements & Licensure

Becoming an attorney in Illinois opens up a world of rewarding career opportunities in the legal profession. With a solid education, hard work, and determination, you will be well on your way to making a meaningful impact on the lives of your clients and society as a whole. In this guide, we will walk you through the process of how to become a lawyer in Illinois, from undergraduate education to licensure and beyond.

What you’re about to learn in this guide:

  • Becoming an attorney in Illinois requires undergraduate education, LSAT preparation, law school selection and completion of the Illinois Bar Exam.

  • Experiential learning opportunities and networking are essential for a successful legal career.

  • Post-bar exam requirements include admission to the ISBA & CLE courses. Attorneys can expect an average salary of $98K with numerous practice areas available across top employers.

Path to Becoming an Attorney in Illinois

A strong educational foundation marks the start of your journey to becoming an attorney in Illinois. Here are the crucial steps toward your goal of joining the legal profession:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree.

  2. Prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

  3. Select the right law school. Understanding the Illinois Bar’s requirements and the significance of choosing an accredited institution paves the way for success in your future law career.

The path to becoming an attorney in Illinois starts with undergraduate education, leading to law school and eventually sitting for the bar exam. Graduating from an ABA-accredited law school is a state requirement, specifically to take the Illinois Bar Exam and to practice law. For those who have completed their law degree in a foreign country, there is a process to follow in order to be eligible to take the Illinois Bar Exam. Registering with the Illinois State Bar during your first year of law school is a key step in the attorney registration process.

Undergraduate Education

In Illinois, aspiring attorneys have the flexibility to choose any undergraduate major as long as they complete 90 semester hours of coursework. This allows students to pursue their passions and interests while still meeting the requirements for admission to law school. However, selecting a major that promotes the development of critical thinking, writing, and analytical skills is instrumental for success in the legal field.

While an undergraduate degree is not specifically required, it is strongly recommended, as law schools typically require applicants to possess at least a bachelor’s degree. It’s important that the university you select offers a robust pre-law program and provides an abundance of support and resources for law career aspirants.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The LSAT is a standardized test required for admission to most law schools, including those accredited by the American Bar Association in Illinois. This exam evaluates reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning abilities. With scores ranging from 120 to 180, the LSAT plays a critical role in law school admissions and can significantly impact your chances of acceptance.

LSAT preparation plays a vital role in your journey to becoming an attorney. Focused study and practice are necessary to develop the skills needed to perform well on the test. The LSAT’s significance in law school admissions is paramount, given its mandatory status for ABA-accredited law schools in Illinois.

Law School Selection

Choosing the appropriate law school is a key milestone in your path to becoming an Illinois attorney. ABA-approved law schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and to use the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) for their admission applications. Some of the most highly regarded law schools in Illinois include the University of Chicago, Northwestern University (Pritzker), and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

When choosing a law school, consider factors such as location, campus environment, class size, faculty expertise, and available resources. Additionally, research the school’s bar passage rate, employment outcomes, and opportunities for experiential learning. Evaluating these factors diligently will aid you in choosing a law school that propels you towards a successful legal career.

Earning Your Juris Doctor (JD) Degree

Once you have been accepted into law school, the next step is to earn your Juris Doctor (JD) degree. This professional doctorate is the initial professional graduate degree in law and is required to practice law in Illinois. The duration of a JD program varies, with a minimum of two years and a maximum of seven years required to complete the degree. For example, at the University of Illinois, the JD program consists of three years of full-time study.

As you work towards your JD degree, you will have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and clinics, which will provide valuable hands-on experience and help you develop essential lawyering skills. Additionally, networking and professional development resources can help you establish connections in the legal community and prepare you for a successful career after law school.

Experiential Learning Opportunities

Experiential learning opportunities are an integral part of law school education, as they allow students to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world settings and develop their lawyering skills. Internships, clinics, and other hands-on experiences provide invaluable opportunities to gain practical experience in a legal environment.

Some examples of experiential learning opportunities in law school include working in legal clinics, participating in moot court competitions, and engaging in legal research and writing courses. By taking advantage of these experiences, you can hone your practical skills and better prepare for the demands of the legal profession upon graduation.

Networking and Professional Development

Networking and professional development are essential components of a successful legal career. As a law student in Illinois, you can access a variety of resources to help you build connections and advance in the legal profession. Some of these resources include:

  • Alumni networks

  • Bar associations

  • Professional networking sites like LinkedIn

  • Continuing legal education (CLE) events

  • Volunteering and pro bono work

All of these options, including involvement with the supreme court, offer valuable networking opportunities to help you grow in your legal career.

Actively participating in these networking opportunities enables you to establish relationships with other legal professionals, discover job openings, and acquire valuable insights into the legal profession. Furthermore, engaging in professional development activities keeps you abreast of the latest developments in the law and augments your skills, making you a standout candidate in the job market. Additionally, staying informed about disciplinary commission decisions can help you avoid potential pitfalls in your career.

Preparing for the Illinois Bar Exam

After earning your JD degree, the next step is to prepare for the Illinois Bar Exam. This exam is designed to assess your knowledge, skills, and ability to practice law in Illinois. To be eligible for the exam, you must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or L.L.B. degree. The Illinois Bar Exam covers a wide range of topics, including the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

Take note that the Illinois Bar Exam is offered twice a year, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. Preparing for the exam requires:

  • Developing a study plan that focuses on the test’s core competencies

  • Including reliable study materials and resources

  • Dedicating ample time and effort to your preparation

Enhancing your chances of passing the exam and earning your attorney license in Illinois, under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Exam Registration and Deadlines

To register for the Illinois Bar Exam, you must complete the following steps:

  1. Create a personal IL Bar Admission Registration account on the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar website.

  2. Complete the Character and Fitness Questionnaire.

  3. Submit required documents, such as the Illinois State Police Criminal History Form.

  4. Grant authorization for the release of information.

  5. Pay the $750 fee for the Illinois Bar Exam.

It is important to be aware of the application deadlines for the Illinois Bar Exam. The deadline for the July exam is February 15, while the deadline for the February exam is September 1. Meeting these deadlines and ensuring a complete registration prevents delays or complications in your pursuit of licensure.

Tips for Success

Preparing for the Illinois Bar Exam can be challenging, but with the right study strategies and resources, you can increase your chances of success. Some helpful tips for studying include using visual aids, such as charts, diagrams, and mnemonics, to help you remember key information, and color-coding your study materials to reinforce your understanding.

Another important aspect of exam preparation is practicing under conditions that closely resemble those of the actual exam. This can help you become more familiar with the format and structure of the test and build your confidence for exam day.

Remember to allocate time for rest and relaxation after 4:00 pm, as this can help your brain assimilate the material you are learning and keep you focused and energized for the remainder of your study sessions.

Post-Bar Exam Requirements

Upon successfully passing the Illinois Bar Exam, there are a few additional steps to complete before you can practice law in the state. One of these requirements is admission to the Illinois State Bar Association and obtaining a law license. To be eligible for a license to practice law in Illinois, you must complete a 6-hour Basic Skills Course/Mentoring Program.

In order to maintain your law license in Illinois, you will need to complete continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. During the initial two years of licensure, attorneys must complete 20 hours of CLE, followed by 24 hours during the next two years, and 30 hours for all subsequent two-year reporting periods. At least four hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) must be dedicated to topics such as legal ethics, professionalism, diversity, mental illness and addiction, or civility. These are mandatory subject areas for the CLE program.

Career Options and Salary Expectations for Illinois Attorneys

A wealth of career opportunities within the legal profession await attorneys in Illinois. Some of the most common fields of practice for Illinois attorneys include:

  • Corporate law

  • Family law

  • Personal injury law

  • Criminal law

The typical salary for an attorney in Illinois is $98,270 per year, while the average salary for attorneys in the Chicago metropolitan area is even higher, at $163,220 annually.

In addition to traditional law firm positions, Illinois attorneys can pursue careers in in-house legal departments of corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Regardless of your chosen career path, networking and professional development opportunities can propel your advancement in the legal profession and help you realize your career goals.

Top Employers and Practice Areas

Illinois is home to many prominent law firms and corporations that employ attorneys in various practice areas. Some of the top law firms in the state include Baker and McKenzie, Sawyier & Williams, DLA Piper, Churchill & Churchill, Mayer Brown, Sidley Austin, and Turner & Sackett Law Offices. Illinois-based corporations that employ lawyers include Walgreens Boots Alliance, Boeing, State Farm Insurance Company, Archer Daniels Midland, Caterpillar Inc., and United Continental Holdings.

In addition to law firms and corporations, Illinois attorneys can also find employment with government agencies and organizations. Some of the leading employers of lawyers in Illinois include:

  • Robert Half

  • Allstate

  • Axiom Law

  • McDermott Will & Emery

  • Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office

By exploring these various employers and practice areas, you can find the perfect fit for your skills and interests within the legal profession.

Strategies for Career Growth

To increase your salary and advance in the legal profession, consider pursuing further education or professional opportunities such as obtaining a professional law degree like an LL.M. or pursuing a partnership. The LL.M. degree is a specialized degree designed for foreign-educated lawyers or individuals with an undergraduate degree in law or a related field. The LL.M. program at the University of Illinois can be completed in two ways: full-time over either two or three semesters, or split into two one-semester years for students sponsored by employers, including those who are already working as a lawyer.

Entering into a partnership can also provide a pathway for career growth. This may include joining a law firm, establishing a private practice, or taking on a role in a corporate legal department. Pursuing further education and professional opportunities enhances your skills and raises your value in the legal profession, setting the stage for a more rewarding and successful career.


In conclusion, the journey to becoming an attorney in Illinois involves a combination of education, dedication, and hard work. From completing your undergraduate degree and law school to passing the bar exam and fulfilling post-exam requirements, each step plays a crucial role in your success. By taking advantage of experiential learning opportunities, networking and professional development resources, and exploring various career options, you can achieve your goals and make a positive impact in the legal profession.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years does it take to become a lawyer in Illinois?

It typically takes seven years to become a lawyer in Illinois, including four years to earn an undergraduate degree, three years to complete law school and earn a J.D. degree, and preparation for the Illinois bar exam.

What are the requirements to become a lawyer in Illinois?

To become a lawyer in Illinois, applicants must meet several requirements. First, they must be at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, they must complete 90 semester hours at a qualified university and graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Furthermore, aspiring lawyers in Illinois must prepare for the Illinois bar exam. This exam tests their knowledge and understanding of the law. In addition to passing the bar exam, applicants must also have been licensed to practice in the highest court of a US jurisdiction for at least five years. These requirements ensure that lawyers in Illinois are well-educated and experienced in the field of law.

How much does it cost to become a lawyer in Illinois?

The cost of attending an LLM program in Illinois to become a lawyer is approximately $50,000.

Is 32 too old to become a lawyer?

It’s never too late to pursue a career in law. While attending law school later is not as common, roughly 20% of applicants are 30 or older, making 32 an appropriate age to apply to law school. Older law school graduates often build successful second careers that take advantage of existing skills and experiences.

What undergraduate major should I choose if I want to become an attorney in Illinois?

For a successful career as an attorney in Illinois, you should choose an undergraduate major that will develop your critical thinking, writing and analytical skills. Make sure to complete 90 semester hours of coursework.

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