Our mission is to increase diversity and inclusion in the legal profession by maintaining its “tradition of excellence” through its supplemental bar process management and pipeline programs
Ronald E. Kennedy created MLER in the early 1970s. Shortly after taking the Illinois Bar Examination in 1973, Kennedy learned that only 33% of the African-Americans who had taken the exam with him passed, compared to the 75% – 85% passage rate for the general population. With the assistance of other professionals and students, Kennedy began the staggering task of compiling statistics to track the number of African-Americans passing the bar exam.
In March 1974, Kennedy filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court in an effort to encourage the Court to investigate whether the bar licensing procedure disproportionately disadvantaged minorities. The Cook County Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union joined the petition. Although the Court never determined that the exam was biased against African-Americans and Latinos, Kennedy developed an innovative solution: he created a supplemental bar review program and, in the kitchen of his home, began to tutor minority graduates of Northwestern University School of Law where he was a faculty member. Kennedy’s program focused on developing essay writing skills, time management, stress management, and perfecting study habits.
In the summer of 1975, the Honorable Ann Claire Williams (retired United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit) learned of Professor Kennedy’s success and expressed an interest in joining the program. Judge Williams wanted to expand the program because, at the time, it was limited to Northwestern graduates. She met with Professor Kennedy and other Northwestern graduates to discuss program expansion to include other law schools.
The “Kennedy Program” was initiated in Chicago in the summer of 1975 to assist law school graduates from other law schools in passing the bar exam. During the summer of 1975, ten graduates of Harvard, DePaul, and Northwestern participated in supplementary bar review sessions. Of these ten, seven passed the examination the first time, and the remaining three passed the second time. In the summer of 1976, the Kennedy Program was offered again – to 11 graduates of Harvard, Northwestern and the University of Chicago Schools of Law. Eight of the11 passed the first time, with the remaining three passing the second time. These rates of 70% and 73.5% for first-time takers and 100% for repeat takers compared quite favorably with the passage for the general population.
The collaboration between Judge Williams and Ronald Kennedy in the summer of 1977 resulted in the formation of a not-for-profit corporation named Minority Legal Educational Resources, Inc. (“MLER”). With the financial support of the Cook County Bar Foundation and several individuals, MLER was substantially expanded to assist 29 people in completing the program. Of the 29 participants, 23 passed the examination – a passage rate of 79.3%. Building on its early success, MLER expanded its program with the support of Northwestern University, Richard Conviser, and financial contributions from several individuals. Starting with the class of 1978, MLER was able to accommodate all of the first-time law school graduates from various underrepresented groups interested in participating in the Program as well as many repeat examination takers.
With the assistance of hundreds of dedicated attorneys who volunteer their time to the Program, MLER continues to offer its supplemental bar review program twice a year. In 2009, in furtherance of its mission, MLER began expansion efforts and now supports and implements pipeline programs for grade school, college, and law school students from various socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
As we move beyond MLER’s 40th year it is our honor to serve as the leadership of MLER and to continue this tradition of excellence. We gratefully acknowledge the groundwork laid by MLER’s founders, Ronald E. Kennedy and Hon. Ann Claire Williams, U.S. Seventh Circuit of Appeals and seek to continue to honor them and the others who have come before us. As a Board, we recognize the importance of using innovative ways to operate in fulfillment of our mission. To that end, we have rededicated ourselves to ensuring the organization evolves to meet the changing needs and challenges to diversifying the legal profession. Please take the time to review our expanded programming.
Our Committed Volunteers
MLER’s success derives from our vast and diverse network of volunteers who provide their support from their time, talent, in cash and in kind. We are an exclusively volunteer run and operated organization—which distinguishes our organization from other diversity pipeline programs. The passion and devotion of our volunteers has been key in MLER’ s success and longevity.
MLER’s tutors, volunteers and board members represent Chicago’s vast legal community — from the private, government, not-for-profit, and corporate sectors. All tutors are licensed attorneys in good standing in the State of Illinois. Many of our volunteers come from the ranks of those who have participated in our Bar Process Management Program, and are keenly aware of the issues students face in preparing for the Illinois Bar Exam and as young legal professionals. MLER provides a mechanism for diverse legal professionals to pool our collective knowledge, to provide law students and young legal professionals access to a variety of approaches that will increase their likelihood of success on the bar exam and beyond.