This week, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism marked its 15th anniversary. The Illinois Supreme Court adopted Rule 799 on September 29, 2005, which established a permanent Commission on Professionalism and professional responsibility CLE requirements for Illinois attorneys. Also on this date, the Court established the MCLE Board to administer the Court’s MCLE program.
“For the past 15 years, the Commission has advanced the highest standards of conduct among lawyers and judges in Illinois,” said Martin Sinclair, Chair of the Commission. “I would like to acknowledge the Illinois Supreme Court for recognizing how incivility can undermine the effectiveness of the legal profession and proactively supporting opportunities for reform. To our former Commissioners and Commission leadership, you handed me the gavel of a smoothly running and well-respected operation – for that I am grateful. I look forward to continuing to work with the Court, our Supreme Court Liaison Justice Mary Jane Theis, my fellow Commissioners, and the Commission staff to elevate civility, professionalism, and integrity in the legal profession across Illinois.”
Origins of the Commission
In response to increasing concerns about the decline of lawyer civility, the Conference of Chief Justices adopted a National Action Plan on Lawyer Conduct and Professionalism in 1999. Recommendations included the establishment of a Commission on Professionalism or other agency in each state and judicial and legal education that references broader social issues and their impact on professionalism and legal ethics.
At roughly the same time, a group of Illinois attorneys organized the Roger K. O’Reilly Symposium on Civility and Advocacy to promote the values that the late Illinois attorney Roger K. O’Reilly personified. Speakers at the August 2001 event included Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Thomas (Ret.), who issued an order in November 2001 to create the Special Supreme Court Committee on Civility.
From 2002-2004, the Committee worked with the Illinois State Bar Association to study the perception of diminishing regard for politeness and civility in the legal community. In 2002, when preliminary work revealed that the issue was broader than civility, the Committee’s name was changed to the Special Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism.
The Committee presented its final report to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2005. Major recommendations were adopted in Court Rules, thereby establishing a permanent Commission on Professionalism 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 Commission includes 14 Court-appointed Commissioners from across the state who are selected based on their reputation for professionalism. The Director of the MCLE Board and the Administrator of the ARDC serve as ex officio members. The Chief Justice may also invite a judge of the United States District Courts located in Illinois to serve as a Commissioner.
The Commission Today
Since 2005, the Commission has developed into one of the most influential professionalism organizations in the U.S. Its free online professional responsibility CLEs have been completed more than 10,500 times in 2020, over 5,000 lawyers have participated in its lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program since 2011, and almost 45,000 subscribers receive its professionalism newsletters. In 2019, the Commission approved almost 11,900 courses as qualifying for professional responsibility CLE credit.
“Connecting lawyers to the core values of our profession is increasingly important amid the rapid changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Commission. “The successes of the past 15 years have been gratifying and the future is promising. We are grateful for the support of the Court, our Commissioners, and our sister organizations as we work together to create a more equitable, effective, and efficient justice system.”
About the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
The Illinois Supreme Court established the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism under Supreme Court Rule 799(c) to foster increased civility, professionalism, and inclusiveness among lawyers and judges in Illinois. By advancing the highest standards of conduct among lawyers and judges, the Commission on Professionalism works to better serve clients and society alike. For more information, please visit 2Civility.org and follow us on Twitter @2CivilityOrg.
Laura Bagby, Communications Director