Journey2Civility: David v. Goliath

'Strategy' concept with other related wordsMy series looking back at the history of the Commission on Professionalism as we look forward to a new name and website continues today.  In July 2009, after a statewide search, I became the second Executive Director of the Commission on Professionalism.  During the interview process, I discussed with the Commissioners that our duties stated in Supreme Court Rule 799 establishing the Commission were many, our resources were limited, and we needed to develop a strategic plan to leverage our scarce resources.

Strategic Planning

During the fall of 2009, we set out to develop a strategic plan.  First step: develop a mission statement that would be our touchstone for a strategic plan.  In order to develop a mission statement, our 15 Commissioners were asked to step back and consider the basic but big questions:  Why does our organization exist? Who are our constituents? What is our unique proposition? What goals/results are we trying to accomplish?  After a long and rich discussion, the following Mission Statement was adopted:

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 second goal, developing a strategic plan, was a more involved, several month-long process that was truly fascinating.  Our commissioners are lawyers and judges from all over the state, none of whom had any experience or expertise in facilitating a strategic planning session.  We engaged an outside facilitator, a college business professor, who agreed to serve this role.

Under his guidance, we researched and analyzed the uncontrollable “driving forces” that significantly affected our organization externally (let’s call them “Goliath”), and the (theoretically) controllable internal “critical success factors” that were essential for the success of our organization (we’ll call them “David”). How could David overcome Goliath? We decided the best way to determine that was with a two day strategic planning session.

Who should be part of our two day session?  After much discussion, we decided to include not only our Commissioners but also members of the Court and stakeholders from outside the organization who could provide additional perspectives as well as generate good will and deeper partnerships for our work.

On Friday, January 22, 2010, the commissioners and stakeholder representatives gathered at the offices of Drinker Biddle, the law firm of Commission Chair Gordon Nash.  The Court was represented by our liaison, Justice Robert Thomas, and most of the stakeholder representatives had accepted our invitation to attend the entire Day 1 session.

Day 1 started with a presentation called “Forces Of and On Professionalism.” The presentation included sections on communication; collaborative partnerships; circuit-wide professionalism and mentoring; law school programs; professional responsibility education; judicial education; legal education; the economy; technology; globalization; and cultural shift (of the larger society).

The remainder of Day 1 consisted of small group workshops (balanced between Commissioners, staff and stakeholder representatives) followed by a full group discussion arriving at consensus. The team workshops built on each other.  First, the groups identified the trends from the power point presentations, second they engaged in a SWOT analysis:  noting the Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, presented by the trends.

Then the group produced a list of questions regarding those massive Goliath external forces and those resource-limited David internal success factors. For the first, the group asked the following:

  • How do law school admissions and curriculum affect the professionalism of future lawyers?
  • What societal shifts have led to the diminished civility of public discourse?
  • What effect will globalization and the economic downturn have on professionalism?
  • What will be the impact of millennial lawyers joining the workforce?
  • What ability does the judiciary have to promote civil discourse and behavior?
  • How will the explosion of technology affect the legal profession?

For the second, the group asked:

  • How can we contribute something measurable to the legal profession?
  • How do we benchmark our progress?
  • How can we cover the whole state of Illinois effectively?
  • How can we foster diversity?
  • How can we focus resources to make an impact and how to obtain additional resources?

By this point, the whole mission of the Commission seemed to be falling under the external pressure of our Goliath forces. We needed to come down from this heady 30,000 foot view to develop concrete objectives to strategically guide our operations for the next three years. After all, David did triumph over Goliath in the end. So, too, would we.

Next: The Strategic Plan 2010-2013.

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