About the Commission
Our mission is to promote a culture of civility and inclusion, in which Illinois lawyers and judges embody the ideals of the legal profession in service to the administration of justice in our democratic society.
The Commission is charged by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 799 to promote among the lawyers and judges of Illinois principles of integrity, professionalism, and civility; to foster commitment to the elimination of bias and divisiveness within the legal and judicial systems; and to ensure that those systems provide equitable, effective, and efficient resolution of problems and disputes for the people of Illinois.
The Supreme Court set forth our duties in Rule 799(c), including:
- Promoting awareness of professionalism, including by generating, gathering, and maintaining professionalism resources
- Monitoring, approving, and assisting with professional responsibility CLE
- Collaborating with law schools on professionalism programs
- Facilitating cooperation among practitioners, bar associations, law schools, courts, and civic and lay organizations on matters of professionalism, ethics, and public understanding of the legal system
2Civility is the Commission’s communication channel. “2” because we are fostering transformation; “Civility” because applied ethics bind us together and encourage a productive exchange of perspectives that advance the ideals of the legal profession.
A symposium to honor the legacy of Roger O’Reilly occurring against the backdrop of a national professionalism movement laid the foundation for the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.
National Action Plan
In 1996, the Conference of Chief Justices responded to increasing concerns about a perceived decline in lawyer civility by adopting a resolution calling for a study of professionalism and the development of a National Action Plan. This resolution was prompted by a recognition that the incivility pervading the legal profession was eroding public confidence in lawyers and the justice system.
State courts, bar associations, ABA-accredited law schools, and other legal organizations were surveyed. The survey addressed professionalism concerns, legal ethics programs in each state, and opinions about the support that these programs needed from state supreme courts. Summaries of responses were provided to a working group of 30 judges and lawyers who made recommendations on initiatives to be included in the National Action Plan. The Hon. Marvin Aspen, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and Jerold Solovy, Chairman of Jenner & Block LLP, served as members of the working group.
In 1999, based on survey results and recommendations from the working group, the Conference of Chief Justices adopted the National Action Plan on Lawyer Conduct and Professionalism. Recommendations included:
- Establishing a Commission on Professionalism or other agency in each state under the direct authority of the appellate court of the highest jurisdiction
- Ensuring that judicial and legal education makes reference to broader social issues and their impact on professionalism and legal ethics
- Increasing the dialogue among the law schools, courts, and the practicing bar through periodic meetings
- Correlating the needs of the legal profession to identify issues, assess trends, and set a coherent and coordinated direction for the profession
The Conference of Chief Justices urged its members to present the plan to their respective courts for implementation.
The ABA Center for Professional Responsibility worked with the Conference of Chief Justices, the National Center for State Courts, and other interested organizations to assess the needs of all segments of the profession with respect to the implementation of the plan. This led to an Implementation Plan, which was adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices on August 2, 2001.
Roger K. O’Reilly Symposium on Civility and Advocacy
During the time that the National Action Plan’s recommendations were being developed, a series of events catapulted Illinois into the professionalism movement. This began on August 20, 2000, with the untimely death of Roger K. O’Reilly. O’Reilly, a member of the DuPage County Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, and the American College of Trial Lawyers, embodied civility and professionalism in the legal community.
Illinois attorneys David F. Rolewick, Edward J. Walsh, and Ralph J. Gabric, along with other lawyers who O’Reilly mentored, decided to commemorate their colleague by organizing a symposium to promote and advance the values of civility and professionalism that O’Reilly personified. On August 1, 2001, the Roger K. O’Reilly Symposium on Civility and Advocacy was conducted at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus. Over 100 lawyers and judges from across Illinois participated.
The symposium began with introductory remarks from Illinois Attorney General James E. Ryan. The Hon. Marvin E. Aspen and attorneys Robert A. Clifford and Neil K. Quinn spoke about the issues of civility and professionalism and opportunities for reform. A panel discussion, moderated by Walsh, focused on the state of civility and professionalism in the practice of law and the role of the judiciary. The panel included Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas (Ret.), Judge Aspen, the Hon. John W. Darrah, and Clifford.
Additional speakers included Hon. William J. Bauer, Hon. Bonnie M. Wheaton, Hon. Hollis L. Webster, Hon. Edward R. Duncan, Hon. William E. Black, and symposium organizers Rolewick, Walsh, and Gabric.
The energy the symposium created was palpable. Attendees and speakers agreed that the concepts promoted should continue. Justice Thomas (Ret.) provided the leadership to advance the goals of the O’Reilly Symposium into a foundational reality.
Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility
On November 19, 2001, the Illinois Supreme Court formally identified incivility among Illinois attorneys as a multi-faceted problem that undermines the effectiveness and reputation of the legal profession and the justice system. Subsequently, with the guidance of Justice Thomas (Ret.), the Illinois Supreme Court issued an order establishing the Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility.
Each of the seven Illinois Supreme Court justices appointed two attorneys to the special committee and Rolewick accepted the role of chair. Members included:
George R. Black, Morris, Ill.
Michael Cho, Chicago, Ill.
Robert A. Clifford, Chicago, Ill.
Laura Clower, Champaign. Ill.
Charles M. Colburn, Jacksonville, Ill.
Gordon B. Nash, Chicago, Ill.
John J. Rekowski, Collinsville, Ill.
David F. Rolewick, Wheaton, Ill., Chair
Ronald S. Samuels, Chicago, Ill.
Lawrence M. Templer, Chicago, Ill.
Richard L. Tognarelli, Collinsville, Ill.
Debra B. Walker, Chicago, Ill.
Edward J. Walsh, Wheaton, Ill.
Sonni C. Williams, Peoria, Ill.
The committee was charged with curtailing the growing perception of lawyers’ diminishing regard for the traits of politeness and civility; to promote integrity and professionalism among the bench and bar; to eliminate bias and divisiveness; and to promote an equitable, efficient, and effective legal system for the citizens of Illinois. In 2002, as preliminary work revealed issues broader than incivility, the committee’s name was changed to the Special Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism.
From 2002-2004, the committee worked in collaboration with the ISBA to conduct meetings throughout Illinois allowing members of the bar to exchange ideas about how to promote civility in their practice and the courtroom. The Hon. Terrence J. Lavin, ISBA president, and Robert E. Craghead, ISBA Executive Director, provided leadership and support for these efforts. Meetings were held in Peoria, Collinsville, Carbondale, Rock Island, Springfield, DeKalb, Joliet, Oakbrook, Waukegan, and Chicago.
The events were attended by members of the public, the bar, and the judiciary throughout Illinois. The data gathered and analyzed revealed that civility and professionalism in the practice of law had diminished to a shocking and disappointing low.
The committee identified the following issues to resolve:
- Rules and enforcement
- Intervention programs
- Education, mentoring, and internships
- Public perception, public education, town meetings, and symposia
- Aspirational standards
The committee presented its final report to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2005. The major recommendations were adopted in Supreme Court Rules, thereby establishing a permanent Commission on Professionalism and CLE requirements that included professional responsibility components.
Law School Orientation
The Commission on Professionalism built out a law school orientation program, which was established by the preceding committee. The program is designed to introduce law students to the principles of professionalism early in their careers through three components:
- A supreme court or appellate court justice speaking on the importance of civility and professionalism
- Law students taking a Pledge of Professionalism to guide their conduct in the academy and beyond
- Practicing attorneys facilitating interactive discussions of ethical and professionalism conundrums that practicing attorneys face
Within a year of introducing this initiative, seven Illinois law schools had implemented some version of the recommended curriculum. Currently, all nine Illinois law schools include a professionalism component in their orientation.
Continuing Legal Education
In studying the state of the legal profession prior to establishing the Commission on Professionalism, the Illinois Supreme Court identified two major issues: the lack of diversity and inclusion and the inordinately high incidence of substance abuse and mental illness among lawyers.
While the diverse representation of women and minorities in law schools and at the early stages of legal careers has improved, organizational leadership fails to include women and minorities in proportion to the general population and law school graduates. These practices, whereby only some people are included, shake the very foundation of our government being by the people for the people.
Moreover, members of the public looking at the legal and judicial systems from the outside are disinclined to trust that the system is fair and impartial when it doesn’t mirror the general populace. Given that much of the incivility in Illinois’ courtrooms is rooted in gender and racial bias, creating a legal profession that welcomes people of all genders, races, and ethnicities will revitalize the profession, engender trust, and strengthen our society as a whole.
To address these issues, the Illinois Supreme Court institutionalized professionalism by requiring Illinois lawyers to obtain professional responsibility CLE that addresses civility, professionalism, legal ethics, diversity and inclusion, and mental health and substance abuse.