Last year was one heck of a year at the Commission, focused on re-branding and re-designing our website to better accomplish our mission through the unique lens of social media. Social media was barely a blip on our radar when the Commission was created. Adapting our outreach to the various and ever-changing digital media opportunities has stretched us beyond our initial knowledge base and comfort zone. As we roll out our new look—website, name, tag line and Twitter handle, etc. —I decided to write a retrospective on the journey that has brought us to this point and will carry us beyond. This is the first in a multi-part series we’re calling Journey2Civility. Let’s look back.
In the early 2000s, the Illinois Supreme Court was concerned about the worrisome lack of civility among Illinois attorneys. The Court viewed that incivility as not only an issue in of itself, but as a manifestation of a deep and multi-faceted problem undermining the effectiveness and reputation of the legal profession and the justice system. In 2006, after several years of study by the Court’s Committee on Civility, the Illinois Supreme Court established the Commission on Professionalism to do the following:
- promote integrity, civility and professionalism among the bench and bar,
- foster an elimination of bias and divisiveness, and,
- promote equitable, efficient and effective legal system for the citizens of Illinois.
I joined the Commission as its first Deputy Director in 2006. After working for a number of years as a trial lawyer and then as counsel to the Review Board of the ARDC, I was excited to join a startup devoted to supporting lawyers and promoting professionalism. We spent the initial months finding space and setting up shop, so to speak. We then began our first program initiatives – law school orientation and professional responsibility CLE.
The Illinois Supreme Court had started the law school orientation program several years before the Commission was born. Designed to introduce law students to the notion of professionalism early in their careers, the program involves three components: a Supreme Court or Appellate Court Justice speaking on the importance of civility and professionalism, law students taking a Pledge of Professionalism to guide their conduct in the academy and beyond, and practicing attorneys facilitating interactive discussions of ethical and professionalism conundrums that typically face practicing attorneys. We are proud to say that all nine Illinois law schools now participate in some or all of the orientation program.
The Commission also focused at the outset on professional responsibility CLE. The broad definition of professional responsibility CLE in Illinois includes legal ethics, as well as professionalism, diversity, substance abuse and mental illness (or wellness) and civility. The Court assigned the Commission certain CLE duties, including monitoring, assisting providers and reviewing and approving course content. By giving us this responsibility, the Court empowered the Commission to encourage transformative continuing legal education.
To further this goal, we convened bar leaders and CLE providers to discuss the content and the approval process. How were we—a Commission with a staff of two at that time—going to approve the content of courses? We first decided to have providers submit course materials to us via e-mail. However, very quickly throughout the fall and winter of 2006-07, as the number of CLE applications grew from dozens to hundreds to thousands, we realized that physically reading the course materials of professional responsibility courses was too labor intensive and would consume all of the resources of our small organization.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe. I do know that technology-based processes became our friends. How? Find out next week.