Marking the Retirement of Jerry Larkin, Who Led the ARDC With Exceptional Foresight, Integrity, and ‘Irish Wit’

Jerome Larkin ARDC

When Jerome “Jerry” Larkin joined the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) in 1978, he had just graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, spent eight years in the Catholic seminary system, and knew he wanted to dedicate his career to public service.

After just a couple of years at the ARDC—an entity charged by the Illinois Supreme Court with upholding the legal profession’s integrity in Illinois—Larkin began to realize he might have found the place where he could accomplish his mission.

“As early as year three or four, I was sitting on a curb with John O’Malley [then ARDC Chief Counsel and future Administrator], wondering whether [the ARDC] might be a place to do some good work for my career.”

It was.

Now, after 45 years of serving the Illinois Supreme Court, lawyers, and the people of Illinois through his work at the ARDC—including the last 16 years as its Administrator—Larkin is retiring at the end of 2023.

“Working with him has been for me a true joy,” ARDC Chair Timothy Bertschy said. “Jerry has succeeded due to a keen mind, an incredible work ethic, humility, a positive attitude, a team approach, and a great Irish wit.”

Following the April 2023 announcement of Larkin’s plans to retire, a search was conducted for his successor. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed Lea Gutierrez to serve as the ARDC’s new Administrator, effective October 23, 2023.

Larkin will serve as Senior Advisor until the end of this year, capping off a career in which he has been at the forefront of some of the most consequential issues and developments in lawyer regulation.

Milestone case law in Illinois professional responsibility for lawyers

After joining the ARDC as staff counsel, Larkin quickly assumed more responsibility, serving as Senior Counsel, Chief Counsel, Assistant Administrator, and then Deputy Administrator from 1988 until he was appointed Administrator in 2007.

During this time, Larkin tried more than 100 attorney disciplinary cases, arguing 25 of them before the Illinois Supreme Court.

“We were privileged to bring cases before the Illinois Supreme Court that actually shaped the law that still governs disciplinary proceedings,” Larkin said.

Some of the cases the ARDC brought before the Illinois Supreme Court that Larkin deemed integral to defining the contours of a lawyer’s professional responsibility obligations include:

  • In re Himmel, 125 Ill. 2d 531 (1988) – finding that a lawyer’s failure to report another lawyer’s conversion of settlement proceeds violated the duty to report specified attorney misconduct;
  • In re Richard A. Rinella, 677 N.E. 2d 909 (1997) – finding that a lawyer’s sexual activity with clients constituted professional misconduct; and
  • In re Charles Andrew Cohn, [M.R.030545 ] (2021) – finding that a lawyer violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct when he directed gender-based slurs towards a female lawyer during a deposition.

Jim Grogan, who worked with Larkin for 40 years at the ARDC and served as Deputy Administrator and Chief Counsel, said Larkin always conducted himself as a “gentleman” during litigation.

“He was a gentleman when he appeared before the court,” Grogan said. “He was a gentleman in dealings with his opponents. Respondents’ counsel as a general rule really liked him because he would never misrepresent, mischaracterize, misstate. He was always honest, and he was never duplicitous in terms of dealing with people.”

A focus on education and remediation

Karen Litscher (Director of the Illinois MCLE Board), Larkin, and Erika Harold

In addition to enforcing professional responsibility standards through prosecutions and the development of case law, Larkin is proud of the ARDC’s increased use of educational measures to prevent professional misconduct from occurring in the first place.

Indeed, Althea K. Welsh, ARDC Deputy Administrator, Intake and Administration, said Larkin has “developed the ARDC’s education initiatives to the point that educating the bar on ethics and professional responsibility has become one of the ARDC’s core functions.”

Welsh continued that the “first-in-the-nation proactive law-office management self-assessment program for practicing attorneys, known as PMBR (‘Proactive Management-Based Regulation’),” that Larkin implemented is of particular note.

In 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted the PMBR program to help private practitioners without malpractice insurance prevent ethical problems from occurring when managing their law offices. Over 15,000 lawyers have completed the free online assessment since its launch in 2018, according to the ARDC’s 2022 Annual Report.

Karen Litscher Johnson, Director of the Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Board, said that through PMBR, “the focus of attorney regulation in this state now includes assisting lawyers and law firms in developing ethical infrastructures” that “help improve the delivery of legal services and help prevent misconduct and malpractice.”

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier (Ret.), who previously served as the Illinois Supreme Court’s liaison to the ARDC, credited Larkin with helping to shift “the focus of the ARDC from simply registration and discipline to helping lawyers and the legal profession improve themselves and their practice and avoid disciplinary problems.”

According to Justice Karmeier, “The ARDC became a recognized national leader under [Larkin’s] guidance.”

Respect for the humanity of Illinois lawyers

Larkin is also proud that, during his tenure, the ARDC increasingly adopted and employed remedial measures for lawyers facing disciplinary investigations while still protecting the public and the legal profession’s integrity.

Some of these remedial programs and measures included:

  • ARDC Diversion Program, which allows the ARDC to close disciplinary investigations in certain types of cases when the lawyer agrees to complete specified programs or comply with defined conditions aimed at addressing the underlying issues that precipitated the grievance.
  • Referrals to Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP), which permits the ARDC to refer lawyers whose ability to practice law may be impaired by mental health or substance use issues to LAP.
  • Intermediary Program, which enables the ARDC to use independent intermediaries to try to locate and contact attorneys who are non-responsive during disciplinary investigations, to engage those attorneys and prevent unnecessary defaults; and
  • Permanent Retirement, an option the ARDC most often utilizes for lawyers experiencing cognitive decline to allow for a graceful conclusion of their career as opposed to a protracted disciplinary process.

Dr. Diana Uchiyama, Executive Director of the LAP, said she appreciated this emphasis on minimizing “legal malfeasance and malpractice” while still recognizing “the humanity of lawyers.”

Larkin understood that “the profession is hard and difficult,” Dr. Uchiyama said, and that mental health and substance abuse can factor into many of the problems that come before the ARDC.

“As a result,” Dr. Uchiyama said, “[Larkin] has implemented progressive and forward-thinking change, involving the ARDC looking at the whole of a person, and not just their mistakes, to try to extend the lifespan of capable attorneys while acknowledging they often may need help and support in achieving positive outcomes.”

ARDC Chair Bertschy counts this shift in focus from attorney discipline to attorney rehabilitation as Larkin’s most significant professional achievement.

“In my mind,” Bertschy said, “[Larkin’s] greatest accomplishment at the ARDC has been to create an organization with recognized integrity in enforcing ethical rules while retaining a philosophy that our true goal is to remediate, not punish, lawyers. As a result, the IARDC is one of the leading regulatory agencies in the world.”

Shepherding the ARDC through the evolution of the legal profession

Larkin, Stephanie Villinski, Laura Bagby, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Rochford, and Harold

While the ARDC’s approach to attorney discipline has evolved since its inception, the legal profession itself has changed over time, becoming increasingly diverse, technology-driven, susceptible to lawyer mobility, focused on lawyer well-being, and driven by clients’ shifting expectations around fees, efficiency, and accessibility.

Larkin has earned praise for shepherding the ARDC during those times of transition.

Holland & Knight Partner Trisha Rich, who also serves as national co-chair of the firm’s Legal Profession Team and a Commissioner on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, said, “[B]etween 2007 and today, the way that we practice and regulate law has transformed dramatically. During that time, [Larkin] has led the ARDC with a steady hand, looking forward toward the future of the profession, while also making sure we maintain our values and obligations as an organized bar.”

The pandemic expedited many of those transformations, particularly regarding technology, and external and internal stakeholders alike praised Larkin’s leadership during this pivotal time.

According to Dr. Uchiyama, Larkin “navigated the ARDC through a difficult chapter in legal history, i.e., COVID, and his workforce has been able to stay focused [and] forward thinking.”

The ARDC reported that, in 2020, despite the shutdowns and shift to remote work, the ARDC’s attorneys successfully adhered to the Commission’s policy of expeditiously handling disciplinary matters (e.g., concluding more than 95% of grievances where no misconduct was alleged within 60 days of the docketing of the grievance), and, between May and December 2020, conducted 32 disciplinary hearings virtually.

Additionally, as the ARDC had been scheduled to host the International Conference of Legal Regulators’ 2020 conference in Chicago, the ARDC pivoted and instead hosted a five-day virtual conference, spanning international time zones.

ARDC Deputy Administrator Welsh credits the “numerous technological upgrades” Larkin had already directed, including a transition to Cloud-based systems and applications and moving to a paperless work model, for the ARDC’s ability to “pivot nearly seamlessly to remote work and virtual disciplinary proceedings during the pandemic.”

And as greater priority has been placed on ensuring that the legal profession better reflects the backgrounds and interests of the public it serves, Welsh notes that Larkin has “shifted the culture at the ARDC to one that prioritizes principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the disciplinary process and all ARDC operations.”

Under Larkin, in 2015, the ARDC appointed a Director of Diversity and Inclusion, which fittingly was Lea Gutierrez (the ARDC’s new Administrator), who was also serving as Senior Litigation Counsel at the time.

Having worked closely with Gutierrez for 15 years—in her roles as both Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Litigation Group Manager—Larkin is thrilled she was appointed as his successor.

“She will lead from a place of inclusivity,” Larkin said. “She is an extraordinarily gifted litigator with great judgment on what a case is and what it doesn’t have to be. … She is really smart, she has great strategic instincts, and I see no limits to what she can do to improve the agency.”

Farewell to Jerry Larkin, a leader in Illinois and beyond

ARDC Larkin
Larkin attending a Commission on Professionalism meeting

While he will miss the privilege of helping the Illinois Supreme Court determine how best to regulate Illinois’ ever-evolving legal profession, Larkin said that what he will most miss are his “friends and colleagues.”

Among those who have worked with Larkin, the feeling is mutual.

“He is one of my most respected colleagues, and I admire him and his work ethic and incredible sense of integrity,” Dr. Uchiyama said. “I cannot imagine a more accessible leader than [Larkin], who was the perfect sounding board for me and many others, and who guided us all to be better versions of ourselves as individuals and leaders.”

MCLE Board Director Litscher Johnson calls Larkin a “universally respected and regarded” advisor, thanks to his measured patience and ability to see the good in people.

“Jerry never rushes to judgment,” she said. “He listens and then reflects before he responds. And his counsel is wise, measured, and insightful. He is also empathetic and can see the good in each person and every circumstance. But he can and does make difficult decisions when the facts and law warrant.”

Jayne Reardon, who led the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism from 2009 to 2022, echoed this appreciation for Larkin’s willingness to offer colleagues wise counsel.

Larkin—who served as an ex officio member of the Commission on Professionalism and MCLE Board—“was extremely helpful as the Commission was getting up and running” in 2005, Reardon said, and he “willingly shared his wealth of institutional knowledge.”

The breadth and scope of his expertise regarding lawyer regulation, desire to edify the legal profession, and noted collegiality established Larkin as a leader not only in Illinois but also in the national and international lawyer regulation arenas.

Larkin previously served as president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, which is the bar association of lawyer regulators, and was awarded its President’s Award for lifetime achievement in the field of lawyer regulation.

In sum, “Jerry Larkin has been essential in protecting the rights of the people of Illinois to access ethical and effective legal services, while also supporting Illinois attorneys in developing practices grounded in professionalism,” said Justice David K. Overstreet, Supreme Court Liaison to the ARDC. “I would like to thank Jerry for his skillful leadership, creativity, and spirit of collaboration, as well as his dedication to safeguarding the public, the courts, and the legal profession.”

Ever the gentleman, Larkin said: “What an honor it has been.”

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