Commission Origin

A symposium to honor the legacy of Roger O’Reilly occurring against the backdrop of a national professionalism initiative lay the foundation for the development of 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 the Conference’s recognition that the incivility pervading much of contemporary legal practice 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 such programs needed from state supreme courts. Summaries of responses were provided to a Working Group of 30 judges and lawyers who made recommendations about specific initiatives to be included in the National Action Plan. The Hon. Marvin Aspen, Chief Judge of the US District Court-Northern District of Illinois, and Jerold Solovy, Chairman of Jenner & Block LLP, served as members of this appointed Working Group.

In 1999, based on the results of the survey and the recommendations of the Working Group, the 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 member 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 National Action Plan. This led to an Implementation Plan that was adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices on August 2, 2001.

Roger K. O’Reilly Symposium on Civility and Advocacy

During the time the national implementation recommendations were being studied and developed, a series of events would catapult Illinois into the professionalism movement. It began on August 20, 2000 with the untimely death of Roger O’Reilly.  O’Reilly, a member of the DuPage County Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, and the American College of Trial Lawyers, inspired civility and professionalism among the legal community.

David Rolewick, Edward Walsh and Ralph Gabric, along with other lawyers mentored by O’Reilly, 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 throughout Illinois participated.

The symposium began with introductory remarks by Illinois Attorney General James Ryan. The Hon. Marvin Aspen, and attorneys Robert Clifford, and Neil Quinn spoke about the issues of civility and professionalism and the opportunities for reform. A panel discussion, moderated by Edward 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 Thomas (Ret.), the Hon. Marvin Aspen, the Hon. John Darrah, and Robert Clifford.

Additional speakers included Hon. William J. Bauer, Hon. Bonnie Wheaton, Hon. Hollis Webster, Hon. Edward Duncan, Hon. William Black and the symposium organizers, David Rolewick, Edward Walsh and Ralph Gabric.

The energy of professionalism and civility created at the symposium was palpable and real. The attendees and speakers agreed that the ideas and concepts discussed and promoted at the symposium should continue. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas (Ret.) would provide the leadership to further promote 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 undermining the effectiveness and reputation of the legal profession and the justice system. Subsequently, with the guidance of Justice Thomas, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an order establishing the Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility. Each of the seven justices appointed two attorneys to the special committee and David Rolewick accepted the leadership role as Chair. Members of the Special Committee included:

George Black, Morris
Michael Cho, Chicago
Robert Clifford, Chicago
Laura Clower, Champaign
Charles Colburn, Jacksonville
Gordon Nash, Chicago
John Rekowski, Collinsville
David Rolewick, Wheaton, Chair
Ronald Samuels, Chicago
Lawrence Templer, Chicago
Richard Tognarelli, Collinsville
Debra Walker, Chicago
Edward Walsh, Wheaton
Sonni Williams, Peoria

The Committee was charged to curtail 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 civility, the Committee’s name was changed to the Special Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism.

From 2002-2004, the Special Committee worked in collaboration with the Illinois State Bar Association to conduct meetings throughout Illinois allowing members of the bar to exchange ideas about how to promote civility within their practice and in the courtroom. The Hon. Terrence Lavin, then ISBA President, and Robert 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 the state. The data gathered and analyzed from these organized state wide events 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 Court in 2005 and the major recommendations were adopted in Supreme Court Rules, thereby establishing a permanent Commission on Professionalism and CLE requirements that included professional responsibility components.

The Road to Professionalism

Law School Orientation

The Commission built on a law school orientation initially established by the Committee that preceded it. Designed to introduce law students to the notion of professionalism early in their careers, the program recommended three components:

  1. A Supreme Court or Appellate Court Justice speaking on the importance of civility and professionalism
  2. Law students taking a Pledge of Professionalism to guide their conduct in the academy and beyond
  3. Practicing attorneys facilitating interactive discussions of ethical and professionalism conundrums that typically face practicing attorneys

Within a year of introducing this initiative, seven Illinois law schools had implemented some version of the recommended curriculum. Currently, all nine law school orientations include a professionalism component.

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 diverse representation of women and minorities in law schools and at the early stages of legal careers has improved, the representation atop organizations fails to include women and minorities in proportion to the general population or law school graduates. These practices, whereby only some of the 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. Furthermore, given that much of the incivility in courtrooms across Illinois is rooted in gender and racial bias, creating a legal profession that welcomes women and minorities revitalizes our profession, engenders trust and strengthens society as a whole.

To address these issues, the Court institutionalized professionalism by requiring Illinois lawyers to obtain professional responsibility CLE that addresses legal ethics, professionalism, diversity, substance abuse, mental illness-wellness and civility.

Why Civility Matters

Our mission “…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” started with a concern that a win-at-all-costs advocacy was clouding attorneys’ judgment and damaging the profession.

It’s easy to view legal professionals as over-commercialized, under civilized, and oblivious to the vision of the law as a learned, dignified profession. Yet, the vast majority of lawyers recognizes the importance of civility and yearns to be part of the effort to make the system better.

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