Commission on Professionalism Launches New Statewide Initiative to Prevent Bullying in the Legal Profession

Advisory Council of Distinguished Lawyers and Judges From Across Illinois to Provide Guidance

The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism is pleased to announce a significant new statewide initiative to assess the prevalence and impact of bullying in the legal profession and recommend best practices for preventing it.

This initiative—titled “Bullying in the Legal Profession: Its Prevalence, Impact, and Strategies for Prevention”—is believed to be one of the first wide-scale research projects conducted in the U.S. on this topic.

“Shining a light on the causes and impacts of bullying has been a priority throughout my career and a project that I am passionate about launching at the Commission on Professionalism,” said Erika Harold, Executive Director of the Commission. “A lack of training, leadership oversight, and workplace policies have led to the normalization of bullying in many legal settings. We hope this project will help interrupt these patterns while furthering the Commission’s mission of promoting civility, well-being, and inclusion among Illinois lawyers.”

Data on bullying in the legal profession

Bullying, or the improper exercise of power (or presumed power) by one person over another, has long been a challenge in the legal profession.

A 2019 study from the International Bar Association on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession found that 63% of female lawyers and 38% of male lawyers in the U.S. said they have been bullied.

And the Commission on Professionalism’s 2021 Survey on Professionalism of Illinois lawyers found that instances of incivility tied to race, age, and sex were on the rise.

In the survey, 92% of respondents said that uncivil/unprofessional behavior makes the practice of law less satisfying, 90% said it harms public/client confidence in the profession, and 62% said it discourages diversity in the profession.

However, a lack of significant ongoing research on the causes and impacts of bullying in the legal profession may be hindering meaningful solutions. The Commission on Professionalism’s new initiative seeks to fill that gap.

The survey structure

The initiative will include a statewide survey of lawyers across Illinois followed by focus groups to facilitate more in-depth discussions about experiences with bullying in the legal profession and best practices to prevent and remedy it. Participants will remain anonymous.

The survey will be administered by The Red Bee Group, a Chicago-based woman-owned firm comprised of accomplished lawyers and researchers who have conducted other wide-scale surveys for organizations including the American Bar Association, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and ALM Intelligence. Stephanie Scharf, a nationally recognized attorney and Red Bee Group co-founder and Principal, will lead The Red Bee Group’s efforts.

The data will be compiled into a report that provides recommendations for reducing bullying in a variety of legal settings and guidance to individuals, employers, and judges for preventing and combatting it.

The research will also inform the Commission on Professionalism’s educational programming promoting civility, professionalism, well-being, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the legal profession.

“The Commission is well-suited to advance needed research in this important area and to put forth best practices that will help promote a more civil and inclusive legal profession,” said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth M. Rochford, who serves as Supreme Court Liaison to the Commission on Professionalism.

The Advisory Council

The Commission on Professionalism has assembled a diverse group of attorneys and judges from across Illinois to serve on the initiative’s Advisory Council. The Advisory Council will provide thought leadership and guidance in the creation of the survey and focus groups, as well as review and comment on the draft report.

Members include:

  • Adrian Barr, Managing Attorney of Prairie State Legal Services’ Bloomington Office; member of the Immigration Project’s Board of Directors
  • Jennifer L. Crespo, President of HLAI – Serving the Hispanic Lawyers of Illinois; General Counsel of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission
  • Mollie Dahlin, Founder of M. Dahlin, P.C.; Prosecutor for the Village of Lakewood; Administrative Law Judge for the City of McHenry and Village of Holiday Hills; member of the advisory council for the social work program for McHenry County
  • John N. Gallo, CEO and Executive Director of Legal Aid Chicago; former Head of Litigation for Sidley Austin LLP’s Chicago Office
  • Maria Green, retired Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Ingersoll-Rand; Past Chair of the Chicago Urban League Board of Directors
  • Judge Corinne Cantwell Heggie, Cook County Circuit Court; Past President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI)
  • Justice Michael B. Hyman, Illinois Appellate Court, First District; member of the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Equality
  • Brandy L. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law; Illinois State Bar Association’s (ISBA) Disability Law Committee, Vice-Chair; member of the ISBA General Assembly and Diversity Leadership Council
  • Shawn S. Kasserman, President of the ISBA; a founding member of Tomasik Kotin Kasserman, LLC
  • Ray J. Koenig III, President of the Chicago Bar Association; Partner at Clark Hill PLC
  • Antonio Lee, Assistant State’s Attorney at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office; Vice-President of the Cook County Bar Association
  • Meredith Mandell, Associate at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; previously a legal affairs producer at a national television news network
  • Christopher McCall, President and Owner of McCall Law Offices, P.C.; Co-President of Halliday McCall
  • Huy Nguyen, 1st Vice-President of the Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago; Senior Associate at Factor
  • Antara Nath Rivera, Arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission; member of the WBAI Board of Directors
  • Shane Schmidt, Associate at Simmons Hanly Conroy; former intern in the homicide and domestic violence divisions for the Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, NV
  • Justice Debra B. Walker, Illinois Appellate Court, First District; Past Chair of the Commission on Professionalism
  • Mariah Whitner, Associate at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP; volunteered with the Chicago Domestic Violence Legal Clinic
  • Sonni Choi Williams, City Attorney for the City of Lockport; ISBA President-Elect; former Commissioner on the Commission on Professionalism
  • Sterling Williams, Associate at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; Associate Board Member of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms; Emerging Leaders Council of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC)
  • Lauren L. Witkowski, WBAI Ex-Officio; Senior Trial Attorney at Zurich North America
  • Kenya Jenkins-Wright, General Counsel of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission; a Past President of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc.

The survey and focus groups are anticipated to be administered in late 2023. The final report is expected to be delivered and publicly presented in 2024.

About the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism 

The Illinois Supreme Court established the Commission on Professionalism under Supreme Court Rule 799 to promote integrity, professionalism, and civility among the lawyers and judges of Illinois, to foster a commitment to the elimination of bias and divisiveness within the legal and judicial systems, and to ensure those systems provide equitable, effective, and efficient resolution of problems for the people of Illinois.

The Commission achieves this mission through professional responsibility CLE, lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring, legal professionalism programming, educational resources, and more. To learn more, visit and follow us on Twitter @2CivilityOrg.

Press Contact 

Laura Bagby, Communications Director

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10 thoughts on “Commission on Professionalism Launches New Statewide Initiative to Prevent Bullying in the Legal Profession

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thank you for your interest! We would really appreciate your help in getting the word out about this important initiative. We will reach out to you directly to talk about how you can help!


  1. This is not only applicable to attorneys – this should be an integrated effort on the part of this committee to address bullying and harassment by attorneys to their support staff. This is a “normal” thing happening in many law firms, unfortunately.

    1. Hi Dena,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We agree that this issue extends beyond attorneys to support staff and others. We hope that this will be the first of several initiatives that focus on bullying and incivility in multiple facets of the profession.

      Thanks again,

  2. The bullying got so bad, after 40 years I quit the practice. Ironically their is FAR more bullying in civil court than criminal. The bigger the lawyer’s name, the bigger the bully. I commend you for taking on this cause. Back in the day I was a young PD in Justice Theis’s criminal courtroom. Everyone was one big happy family. Never even heard the phrase bullying in conjunction with lawyers. Then came private practice, “civil” court and there they were. Powerful big name bullies! How can I help?

    1. Hi Deborah,

      I am so sorry to hear that. So many phenomenal lawyers have walked away from the profession due to bullying and incivility.

      Thank you for sharing your story. I will reach out directly about how you can help!


      1. Erika, thank you for posting. Your comment is exactly what I am finding in my work on another issue, discrimination in the Bar. I am starting to wonder if the two problems exist as part of a common core problem.

  3. Over 45 years of excessive bullying, as a Black female, in the criminal courts of Cook County.
    As an appointed lawyer in one multiple defendant case, I was excluded from weekly meetings
    during trial prep by the other defense attorneys (both private and public). I was grateful for the exclusion when I left all of them at the bar after my motion for a directed finding was granted!

  4. Hi Erika – very sorry to hear of your difficult childhood bullying – you should be proud of all you have overcome! I am a childhood immigrant to the U.S. and understand some of your experiences with folks who seem to fear differences in others. Like you I have tried to extend kindness and empathy to others and have had great success using these skills in my legal profession as well, sometimes to the surprise of my opponents, Judges and jurors. You get more flies with honey. Thanks for your work on this important issue. Shoshan.

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