This is the fourth installment of an on-going series looking back at the development of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism as we prepare to roll out our new online name and interactive website.
In early 2010, after several months of strategic planning, the Commissioners adopted a three-year Strategic Plan that has since guided Commission efforts. The Plan consists of five over-arching objectives with concrete programmatic activities to accomplish the larger goal. The objectives are as follows:
- To promote best practices and educational programs for lawyers, judges and law students in the areas of professionalism, diversity, inclusion, wellness, civility and legal ethics,
- To promote the standards of professionalism among lawyers, judges and law students and facilitate public understanding of these standards,
- To encourage programs to bridge the transition from law school to practice and continue the dialogue and collaboration with law schools,
- To use technology to reach all lawyers, judges and law students in the state to promote a culture of civility and inclusion, and
- To increase financial and human resources to accomplish our mission.
With the Strategic Plan in place, the Commission focused on an initiative that cut across several of the objectives, the mentoring of new lawyers. The Commissioners had often discussed mentoring as a tool to improve professionalism among Illinois attorneys. To that end, the Commission continued to collaborate with a judicial circuit in Rockford, Illinois on a pilot program of lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring for newly admitted attorneys. Simultaneously, a committee convened specifically for the mentoring program developed a mentoring plan that involved structured activities (drawing the concept from programs in place in the states of Ohio and Georgia) and suggested reading resources organized around the five substantive areas of the Illinois professional responsibility CLE requirement. Based on feedback from participants and the administrator of the Rockford mentoring program, the Commission recommended that the Supreme Court recognize mentoring as a non-traditional form of continuing legal education. And in September 2011, the Supreme Court adopted that recommendation.
The resulting Supreme Court Rule, Rule 795(d)(11), allows attorneys to receive six hours of professional responsibility CLE if they complete a mentoring program approved by the Commission. For mentees (those within the first three years of practice), the six hours may apply either to their new attorney requirement or to their first two-year CLE reporting period. Mentors (who must have at least six years of practice experience) receive six hours in the reporting period in which the mentoring program is completed. Mentor-mentee pairs must meet in person at least eight times over the course of a year and use the above-mentioned structured mentoring plan to guide these in-person meetings.
In our third year of operation, we now have 75 sponsoring organizations and over 1,200 lawyers who either have completed or are currently enrolled in a Commission-approved mentoring program. Exit surveys are overwhelmingly positive, with (to our delight) mentors finding the program as rewarding and valuable as do the mentees.
The key to the program’s success has been the enthusiastic participation of our sponsoring organizations. These bar associations, law firms, law schools and other organizations apply to become mentoring partners with the Commission. Once approved, they recruit mentors, match pairs, and support periodic in-person meetings with substantive programming and innovative resources. The Commission is enormously grateful to the program administrators whose volunteer efforts in the mentoring program have made a vital contribution to facilitating a more professional and connected legal community.
Next: the Commission and professional responsibility education.