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Chessicks build “Bridge to the Bar” scholarships

December 20, 2011

Following law school graduation, most students still have one more major hurdle to conquer: passing the bar exam. To help students from the NIU College of Law clear that hurdle, Dr. Kenneth C. Chessick (’84) and his wife Ellen Chessick have created the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Bridge to the Bar Scholarship Fund.

“There are students who work hard during their three years of law school, pass all their courses, yet remain at risk of not passing the bar exam and then are unable to immediately practice law and contribute to this noble profession,” said Dr. Chessick.  “Ellen and I established the Bridge to the Bar scholarship for NIU Law students because we want to give those students additional tools to achieve their dreams.  Dedicated, honest, competent, and ethical lawyers are integral to a strong America, and our encouraging young lawyers to make our country better and stronger helps everyone, including us,” he added.

NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato (left) along with Dr. Kenneth and Ellen Chessick, celebrate the creation of the Bridge to the Bar Scholarship fund.

The Bridge to the Bar scholarship is intended to help raise the bar passage rate of NIU Law graduates by offering recipients financial support while preparing for the exam. This year, five students will each receive $5,000. The scholarships will be awarded based on financial need, evaluation of student applications, and demonstrated benefit from the scholarship.  Recipients must be graduating students who will be taking the bar exam for the first time following graduation. The number of scholarships will increase over the next two years.

The July 2011 bar passage pass rate for NIU Law graduates was 87% for first-time takers in Illinois. The average pass rate for law schools in the state was 90%.  Although it was a 3percent iimprovement from last year, NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato is committed to improving the bar passage rate even further.  According to Rosato, “One of the obstacles we have found is that some of our students, while studying for the bar, must also work in order to support themselves or their families.  This scholarship will allow students the opportunity to spend more time preparing for the exam without concern for how they will pay for the bar course and living expenses during this important summer.”

In addition to the financial assistance of the Chessicks Bridge to the Bar Scholarship, Rosato also has identified a number of other key academic areas for improvement and will implement some new programs beginning next semester.  During Spring 2012, all third-year students will be invited to take a “pre” bar review program and some will be able to take a two-credit, pass-fail course; an academic support program will now be required for some students; and the College of Law will continue to provide support for the MLER Exam Preparation Program, a supplemental bar program provided to Chicago-area students during July.

The Chessicks were pleased by the many actions of the dean and the faculty to help these neophyte lawyers. “Our experience with NIU Law is that they are always receptive to ideas and suggestions, and we always feel heard. This emphasis on fulfilling our responsibilities to our NIU students is a perfect example. NIU Law plays an important role in achieving this objective, and we are proud of our association with this august institution.”

As volunteer and philanthropic leaders, the Chessicks seek to provide the NIU College of Law and its graduates every opportunity to be successful as lawyers and business professionals.  The state-of-the-art Kenneth C. Chessick Legal Training Skills Center opened in 2004. Established in 2007, the Kenneth C. Chessick Civil Justice Endowed Scholarship Program now has five $25,000 endowed awards named for his clients who were victims of medical negligence.  Most recently, the Chessicks pledged $3 million to NIU athletics to name the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Facility. This gift is the largest ever made to Northern Illinois Athletics and the second-largest gift to the university.

Ellen Chessick’s volunteer service to NIU includes co-chairing the NIU Foundation’s Red & Black gala. She earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has an MBA in finance from DePaul University.  She is an independent investment manager and a member of the Board of Directors of

Dr. Chessick is a member the NIU Law Board of Visitors as well as the NIU Foundation Board of Directors. In 2001, he was named the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.  With successful careers in both the medical and legal profession, Dr. Chessick concentrates his legal practice in medical and hospital negligence and personal injury. His firm, The Law Offices of Kenneth C. Chessick, M.D., in Schaumburg, Ill., has achieved record verdicts at trial and settlements in excess of $100 million.

“Ken and Ellen Chessick have committed a wealth of time and resources to ensuring the academic achievement of NIU College of Law students,” said Rosato.  “They have now taken that mission to the next level in the hopes of securing the future for these students beyond graduation and have added a new dimension of post-graduate support. We are extremely grateful for their continued dedication and generosity to NIU.”