Journey2Civility: The Ripple Effect

RipplesIn a previous installment of this retrospective series about the Commission, I talked about the Commission’s involvement in professional responsibility CLE.  Our education efforts extend beyond the area of formal courses offered by CLE providers to include collaborating with law schools in various professionalism programs and with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts in the bi-annual Judicial Education Conference.  Given our task of engaging in these activities during a time when education is undergoing massive change, our foray into distance learning has proven to be most enlightening.

Law School Collaboration

As mentioned in a previous post in this series, one of the signature programs of the Commission is our law school professionalism orientation program. Our professionalism program, including a speech, administration of a pledge of professionalism, and a discussion of professionalism issues with practitioners has now been incorporated by all nine law schools. The Commission recognizes that individual schools may wish to adapt or modify the program to suit their perspectives and scheduling constraints, and we adapt accordingly, collaborating where we can to help however we can. Like the ripple effect of waves across a pond, one collaboration seems to lead to another, to improvements, etc.

Our willingness to help where it makes sense for law schools means that over the years, our collaborations have expanded beyond orientation.  Many legal professionals who experienced law school orientation recall being the recipient of an overwhelmingly voluminous spigot of information. Loyola for one has deferred the small group discussion piece after determining that the competing demands of orientation rendered the first few days of school as not the optimum time for students to engage in a discussion of professionalism issues. Instead, the school sponsors a mandatory civility program during the second semester of the 1L year that involves panel discussion of hypotheticals and interaction with students on a number of professionalism issues affecting law school and their eventual practice.  In 2013, Loyola also rolled out a full day devoted to professional responsibility for the students in their intern and extern programs.

The John Marshall Law School is in the fifth year of presenting the Justice Anne E. Burke Professionalism series, bringing panels of practicing lawyers and sitting judges to give advice and perspectives to students (and mentoring pairs) regarding various “real world” professionalism issues.  We have also collaborated with Northern Illinois University in their annual professionalism series and with Kent Law School to present a program on emotional intelligence to 3Ls and practicing attorneys.  As a result of these collaborations, the importance of professionalism is gradually being infused into the newest members of our profession.

Judicial Education

Another collaboration we developed is with the judges and administrative office that produces judicial education.  Every other year, the judges meet for a week in either January or April to take their required 30 hours of continuing judicial education.  In 2012 and again this year, we developed and produced a course on civility.  Although the courses were slightly different, each featured a format that included research on the incidence and consequences of unprofessional behavior and several hypotheticals (based on incidents that actually occurred in courtrooms around the state).  Moreover, the judges seemed to enjoy the tabletop discussions and full-room report from various volunteers about what they could/would have done in the circumstances to promote civility.

Online Learning

Although there is no substitute for meeting in-person to discuss professionalism issues that concern the exercise of judgment, legal personnel are increasingly demanding to take their continuing legal education classes — indeed their law school classes — online.  And so in the summer of 2013, in collaboration with the American Bar Association, I moderated my first civility panel via webinar, “Ethical Tools to Defuse Incivility.”

In order to facilitate interactivity, the webinar included slides of several factual scenarios followed by multiple-choice answers laying out alternative courses of action.  Over 4,400 people were signed on, leading to unanticipated technical challenges, including from the submission of over 400 comments/questions — far too many to answer during the course of the program.  Nonetheless, my panelists and I made it through the program in one piece and the feedback was positive.  In a de-brief afterward, our ABA contact expressed gratitude that the seminar was so popular that we “broke their system”.  It was later determined that over 2,000 additional individuals tried to register and log on but could not be accommodated.

This tells me one thing — lawyers recognize the importance of civility and want to be part of the discussion concerning how to make the system better. They are willing to engage in interactive educational programs–especially from the comfort of their own computer or mobile device.

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