Tomorrow, I attend one of my favorite events of the year: the induction ceremony at Southern Illinois University School of Law. Every year, incoming SIU 1Ls draft a Declaration of Professional Commitment to guide them through their law school careers. Then, the students participate in SIU’s annual Induction Ceremony where they are inducted as lawyers-in-training. I get to participate in this very memorable ceremony tomorrow evening. Almost all the parents show up to watch their children, dressed in business attire, stand and recite the Declaration of Professional Commitment, then cross the stage to receive a certificate from an Illinois Supreme Court Justice (in recent years, Justice Lloyd Karmeier) and a memento of their Declaration from the Commission on Professionalism.
I love this ceremony. It’s inspiring to watch students recite a pledge that they have written. It’s heartwarming to see their families laugh, cry and take plentiful pictures. And finally, it’s bittersweet since the SIU ceremony always signifies the completion of our professionalism orientation season.
For nine years, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism has collaborated with law schools in Illinois to produce professionalism orientation programs for incoming first year students. At all nine law schools, an Illinois Supreme Court or Appellate Court Justice speaks about their professionalism journey and how decisions they have made in their career have led to where they are now. Following these remarks, the Justice issues the Pledge of Professionalism. The students all stand and pledge to keep the principles of ethics, civility and professionalism at the core of their legal lives.
The justices always give an inspiring speech and are often tremendously entertaining. This year, Justice Robert Thomas recounted his years as a Bears kicker, Justice Maureen Connors despaired over young people and technology, and Justice Thomas Kilbride even included a sports drink video to illustrate his point – YOLO, but remember to breathe.
Not only has it been my pleasure these past few years to collaborate with these Justices, I’ve also been privileged to collaborate with another group on the second part of the professionalism program – our facilitated discussions. At four of the law schools, lawyers from across the state lead law students in small group facilitated discussions around three hypothetical scenarios. Each of these scenarios implicates issues of leadership, inter-generational communication, diversity and inclusion, ethics and the true meaning of attorney professionalism.
The Commission has been fortunate to have dozens of attorneys serve as facilitators over the years, many of whom come back and do it again year after year. For Ann Hopkins Avery, professional development manager in Chicago, the discussions give her “a wonderful opportunity to encourage students to get to know one another and to embrace the diversity of the class.” She likes to focus her discussion on “the importance of communication and building relationships with each other during law school and with other attorneys, staff, judges, etc. as they progress in their careers.”
Litigation partner Rene Torrado agrees on the relationship-building the program gives these new law students: “In the diversity scenario, pairs of students end up talking with one another, and getting to know one another. Building these relationships is really key to a successful law school experience and legal career. The students learn, and hopefully remember, that the practice of law is more than reading cases and statutes – it’s an opportunity to engage with one another in a civil and open manner.”
Criminal defense attorney John Palmer believes that these discussion groups can change the career paths of many of these students: “They get to interact with attorneys at the very beginning of their law career, and perhaps be inspired to consider new areas of practice they might not have considered … [and] they get real-world scenarios to consider that will serve to help them as they progress in their classes. It is important that they realize right from the start that what they do has real implications on the lives of real people.”
Public defender Sharmila Manak thinks it’s an engaging learning experience for her and the students. “Frankly, I think it gets them interested in the legal profession. Also, I think the students are surprised to learn how much they really do not know. Many of them have certain perceptions of how the legal system works and what the answers are to the ethical questions. I think they are very surprised to learn that they are not always correct.”
Finally, attorney-mediator Bianca Green believes that the Pledge and the small group discussions help guide these young attorneys-to-be on their future path: “It helps them decide what type of law students and attorneys they ultimately want to become.” She hopes they realize that they are at the beginning of the process of developing their professional reputations: “Their fellow students and professors will quickly identify the type of people they are based upon their interactions with them and their observations of their conduct while in law school. The reputations they develop will have the power to either open doors for unlimited opportunities or close them, depending upon how they choose to conduct themselves.”
Thank you to all our attorneys, judges and everyone who worked so hard to make our orientation program a success. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to participate next year. Now I’m off to Carbondale to watch a group of students take their first steps toward becoming attorneys-at-law.