Lawyers and Judges Engage in Education for Change

educationWe are having a tenth anniversary this autumn. Ten years of inspiring and engaging the legal profession with a goal of better serving the people of Illinois.  How are we doing this? Primarily through education, educating for change.

Civility Focus: Advocacy Is Not Aggression

The Illinois Supreme Court created the Commission on Professionalism because the justices were concerned that many lawyers were developing a dog-eat-dog, win-at-all-costs mentality toward litigation.  Ask judges: they will tell you they hate fighting between counsel and that incivility will not help a client’s case.  But some lawyers complain that the behavior of judges is less than civil as well.  Our mission statement is aspirational and directed to both lawyers and judges who are to serve clients and the public good:

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.

Educating Law Students

The committee that preceded the Commission was impressed with the wisdom of planting the seeds of professionalism with future lawyers while they were learning to become lawyers.  So the first major program of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism was the Law School Professionalism Orientation program.  Now held at all nine Illinois law schools, students hear an inspiring speech about the significance of professionalism by an Illinois Supreme or Appellate Court Justice then stand and take a Pledge of Professionalism. The Pledge of Professionalism emphasizes to students that they are not just going to law school as another form of graduate course of study, but they are entering a profession with a high calling of service.

Over the years, the Commission increasingly has delivered programs to students in later years of law school that follows up on the seeds of professionalism planted at orientation.  Some topics of those programs include civility, intergenerational communication, the difference between professionalism and ethics, and implicit bias.

Educating Lawyers: CLE

At the same time as the Court established the Commission, it also required continuing legal education (“CLE”) for the first time in Illinois. The Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board handles most aspects of CLE. However, the Commission substantively reviews and approves for credit any and all professional responsibility CLE. In addition, we assist in developing quality professional responsibility programs.  Twice a year, we meet with various CLE providers to discuss ways to improve professional responsibility programming.  Feedback from this advisory group was helpful as we developed guidelines for professional responsibility course design.

The substantive areas of Illinois’ professional responsibility requirement are broad.  In addition to including ethics and professionalism, Illinois allows courses in the areas of civility, diversity, and substance abuse/mental illness to qualify for professional responsibility credit. We have found that most of the courses are in legal ethics and relatively few courses are offered in the areas of diversity and wellness.  (This is an area of focused study for the commissioners who believe that education in these areas can be transformative for the health of the profession.).

The number of professional responsibility courses have continued to rise year over year. Last year, over 9,000 professional responsibility courses were approved.  The providers of these courses hailed from 38 different states.

As a new development last year, the Commission became an Accredited CLE Provider.  Now, in addition to facilitating and helping develop courses, we actually provide courses in the area of professional responsibility.  Our first major project as a provider was to develop quality online CLE.  Increasingly, lawyers are opting to take courses online, and we wanted to put together online courses consistent with adult learning principles.

Adult learning principles tell us that good adult education is interactive. The lecture format is not ideal—especially for professional responsibility topics that do not involve much black letter law.  We are particularly proud of our first two interactive online CLE courses, Talking About My Generation, Learning Conversations in the Legal Workplace and The Buck Stops Here: Ethics and Professionalism for In-House Counsel.  These are available for free on our website.

Educating Lawyers: Mentoring

Mentoring is education that occurs in a relationship.  In the early years, the Commission developed and tested a pilot mentoring program that would connect seasoned and new lawyers in a mentoring program focused on the professional responsibility topics of the Illinois CLE requirement.  After gathering positive feedback and tweaking the curriculum, the Commission recommended that the Court amended the CLE rules to allow mentoring to receive non-traditional CLE credit. The Court did.

Now, lawyers who participate in a structured one year program approved by the Commission may receive six hours of professional responsibility CLE credit.  Eight meetings must take place, and the pair must complete a mentoring plan.  The program materials include a supplement that provides links to resources that both mentor and mentee can review and discuss.

Unique in the country at the time, the implementation structure includes sponsoring organizations around the state.  Over 80 bar associations, law firms, law schools, government offices, and other legal entities have agreed to sponsor a Commission-approved mentoring program.  The sponsoring organization takes responsibility for matching the mentor and mentee, running the orientation program, and some administrative tasks.  The Commission provides materials, support and CLE credit once completion has been certified. In this way, leaders who know the local and regional landscape are involved in the process of matching the seasoned and newer attorney and monitoring their progress throughout the year.

After five years of operation, over 5,000 lawyers have participated in the program as either mentor or mentee.  The Commission recently recommended to the Court that the program be expanded to include lawyers up to five years out of law school as mentees and to allow lawyers with five or more years of practice to serve as mentors.  The Court acted just last week to make this change.  We look forward to making this educational option available to more lawyers in Illinois.

Educating Judges and Courthouse Personnel

Just as lawyers need to obtain thirty hours of CLE in a two-year reporting period, Illinois judges must obtain thirty hours of judicial education in a two-year reporting period.  Every other year, judges receive this training through a concentrated week of training, the Judicial Education Conference.  I have taught at EdCon several times, more recently with Judge Debra Walker, the Chair of the Commission.  The last training included discussion of ways that judges may enhance civility and professionalism in their courtrooms considering hypothetical scenarios (and real situations).  EdCon also presents civility issues at the appellate level, especially in written opinions. An important theme that has garnered positive feedback is that the trainings offer an opportunity to consider our justice system through the eyes of others who work in or use the system.

Similarly, Walk in their Shoes is our unique courthouse professionalism training that challenges participants to consider different perspectives. It involves not only lawyers and judges, but all personnel who work in the courthouse:  bailiffs, court reporters, clerks, deputies, interpreters, etc.  This training brings together people from various departments in the courthouse to think about how they can better serve court patrons, the taxpayers of Illinois.  The program consists of several segments including an ice-breaker skit parodying professionalism fails, information about court user surveys, practicing listening and communication skills, and small group discussions. The Commission has delivered this program in several locations around the state, most recently in Lake County. At the conclusion of that program, I was gratified to hear a participant say that she can think of about five things she is going to do differently in her workday to enhance professionalism—bravo!

Education Leads to Change

Feedback from our educational programs shows that people are changing behavior as a result of education. Do we have a ways to go?  Sure. Professionalism is like a performing art—there is always room for improvement. And practice leads to improvement. Let’s see it going forward.

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