This is the sixth post in a multi-part series looking back at the history and work of the Commission on Professionalism as we look forward to launching our new communications channel “2Civility.” You will see it soon—April brings a fresh new website. Stay tuned.
In the years and months leading up to establishing the Commission on Professionalism, the Illinois Supreme Court had studied the state of the legal profession in Illinois through its hand-picked Committee on Civility. Finding that the pressures on lawyers went beyond a lack of civility, the committee’s mandate expanded, and its name became the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism. Two major challenges that emerged from the research, including numerous town hall meetings held around the state, were 1) the lack of diversity and 2) the inordinately high incidence of substance abuse and mental illness within the lawyer population. Addressing these issues on an on-going basis were included in the Committee’s recommendations to the Court.
The Creation Of The Commission On Professionalism
The Supreme Court created a permanent Commission on Professionalism by adopting Supreme Court Rule 799. Rule 799 states that the purpose of the Commission includes fostering a commitment to “eliminat[e] bias and divisiveness within the legal and judicial systems.” To help in this large mission, one of the tools the Court provided was to very broadly define the professional responsibility CLE requirement (in Rule 794(d)) as including diversity issues. (“Mental illness and addiction issues” is another category of topics called out within the professional responsibility CLE requirement, six hours of which every lawyer needs in every two year reporting period. This topic will be addressed in the next post.)
I personally prefer the word inclusion rather than diversity. The difference between diversity and inclusion is the difference between being invited to the dinner party and being allowed to eat at the table—and even participate in after-dinner drinks. We may have achieved diverse representation of women and minorities in law schools and at the early stages of legal careers, but we know that representation at the top of organizations does not include women and minorities in a proportion relative to the general population or to those who hold law degrees.
What Does The Commission Support?
We support greater inclusion, collaborating with interested individuals and organizations on programs and initiatives that explore methods to increase inclusion. We co-sponsor many programs and events put on by dedicated individuals and organizations, including various bar association sections and committees, law firms, law schools, the Alliance for Women, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession and the Chicago Committee.
Recognizing that the legal community must be active and intentional in implementing policies and practices that support institutional diversity, we sent a letter to managing partners in many Illinois law firms commending a set of tools known as Talent Development Initiative (TDI) developed by the Chicago Committee, formerly known as the Chicago committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms. TDI assists law firms in diagnosing their historical retention of minority attorneys; implementing best talent development practices for retaining them; and measuring their incremental progress.
The specific objective measures characterized by TDI stand in stark contrast to my experience in hiring and promoting decisions in my previous law firms. The informal but pervasive touchstone in recruiting and promoting lawyers was: “Who would you not mind being stuck in an elevator with?” or “going on an out of town business pitch with?” Choosing new associates by this method may lead to a cohesive and comfortable work environment. It also leads to like-minded candidates being hired. It does not lead to diversity of thought, to garnering different perspectives, to understanding our clients’ needs or to crafting innovative solutions to address their problems. And it has nothing to do with intentionally assigning work and crafting opportunities to develop talent.
We should focus on diversity and inclusion throughout lawyers’ careers because it makes good business sense to develop the people we hire. It is also the moral thing to do. Moreover, the very foundational basis of our government being by the people for the people is shaken when only some of the people are included. Those members of the public looking at the legal and judicial systems from the outside may not trust that the system is fair and impartial if it only reflects a certain subset of the people—none who look like them.
A legal profession that better includes women and minorities will revitalize our profession, earn greater trust from the public, and strengthen our communities and society.