Professional Responsibility Education Guide

Professional Responsibility Topics

Rule 794(d) defines professional responsibility courses as those in the areas of professionalism, civility, legal ethics, diversity and inclusion, and mental health and substance abuse. Each of these areas is discussed separately below.

As of July 1, 2017, Illinois attorneys are required to take one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE and one hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE during each two-year reporting period.

In addition, please remember that every professional responsibility course must still meet Rule 795 accreditation standards.

Three smiling people at a conference table

Diversity and Inclusion

The legal profession continues to face diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges that are impacting attorney well-being and the delivery of justice. Through diversity and inclusion education, the Commission encourages the legal community to explore prejudices and biases, both personal and institutional, and to develop strategies for changing behavior. Diversity and inclusion CLE programs provide excellent opportunities to engage in interactive small-group sessions.

When designing a diversity and inclusion CLE program for credit in Illinois, providers should be aware of the following guidelines:

  • Diversity and inclusion CLE should focus on challenges faced by groups underrepresented in the legal profession.
  • Courses should focus on eliminating bias, increasing representation, and reducing harassment, and barriers to the hiring, retention, promotion, professional development, and full participation of underrepresented groups in the legal profession.
  • Diversity and inclusion CLE must directly relate to issues in the legal profession and in the practice of law. Credit won’t be given to courses that aren’t specifically oriented toward attorneys.
  • Courses should have practical advice that participants can utilize and employ when improving diversity and inclusion in their professional circles. If a panel is utilized, the panelists should have personal and/or professional experience with diversity and inclusion and offer unique insight into the challenges facing the legal profession and the justice system. Valid and measurable research should be utilized where possible.
  • Courses should include interactive activities to allow participants to engage with each other while learning diverse perspectives and challenging their own biases.
  • Programs about substantive law as it relates to representing clients from underrepresented groups won’t qualify for professional responsibility CLE credit. For example, courses focused on immigration law, the tax code, or divorce law would not qualify for professional responsibility credit. Programs addressing communication skills necessary for the effective representation of diverse clients could qualify under the professionalism topic area.

Examples of diversity and inclusion courses include:

  • Challenging implicit biases
  • Advancing women in the profession
  • Restructuring organization policies to encourage retention
  • Mentoring relationships between majority and minority attorneys
  • Client-initiated efforts to increase the diversity of lawyers

Under the previous Rule 795(d), the Illinois Supreme Court had included diversity as one of five optional areas of professional responsibility CLE credit. At the request of our providers, titles of courses that have previously been approved for professional responsibility credit under this topic area include:

  • Positive Steps to Increase Gender Diversity and Eliminate Bias in the Legal Profession
  • Overcoming and Eliminating Age Bias against Both Younger and Older Lawyers, with a Discussion of ABA Model Rule 8.4(g)
  • Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion: Uncovering the Talent in Your Team
  • The Metrics of Diversity Initiatives: How Can We Measure Progress?
  • Changing Workplace Culture: Creating LGBT Inclusive Workplaces

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Judges and lawyers suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Providers should utilize mental health and substance abuse CLE to explore ways to increase the health and well-being of the bar. Like all CLE courses, a mental health and substance abuse course must directly relate to issues in the legal profession and the practice of law. Credit won’t be given to courses that aren’t specifically oriented toward attorneys.

Examples of topics for a mental health and substance abuse course include:

  • Balancing personal and professional priorities
  • Maintaining emotional and mental health
  • Stress management
  • Suicide prevention
  • Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse
  • Strategies for dealing with mental health and substance abuse
  • The relationship between mental health and substance abuse and disciplinary actions
  • The effects of lawyer impairment on the legal profession
  • Destigmatizing mental health and substance abuse

Under the previous Rule 795(d), the Supreme Court had included mental illness and substance abuse as one of five optional areas of professional responsibility CLE credit. At the request of our providers, titles of courses that have previously been approved for professional responsibility credit under this topic area include:

  • Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Competency: What’s the Connection?
  • Stress Management for Lawyers
  • Living in the Dark: A Look at Depression, Alcoholism and Suicide in the Legal Profession
  • Ethical Issues in Making Capacity Decisions
  • Better Lawyering Through Mindfulness


Reducing attorney incivility in Illinois lies at the heart of the Commission’s mission. Incivility can occur when lawyers erroneously equate aggressiveness with advocacy.  Further, lawyers who act with single-minded aggressiveness in representing a client often fail to fulfill the simultaneous duties they owe to the court, to the rule of law, to the administration of justice, and to the public good. Examples of topics for a civility course include:

  • How to alleviate incivility in the profession
  • How to engage in difficult conversations (e.g., using reframing skills)
  • How to defuse highly charged situations
  • How to conduct a civil deposition or mediation

At the request of our providers, titles of course that have been previously approved for professional responsibility credit under this topic area include:

  • Practicing Civility and Constructive Ways to Deal with Those Who Don’t
  • Hamilton: An American Lawyer – Lessons for Your Practice
  • Taking the High Road: How to Deal Ethically with Bullies Who Don’t Play by the Rules
  • Civil Discourse: What Would George Washington Say?
  • Ethics, Civility, Diversity, and Discovery: Being Nice and Being Careful


Professionalism calls lawyers to be mindful of their role as an officer of the legal system, advocate, counselor, negotiator, and problem solver. Professionalism asks lawyers to commit to improving the law, the legal system, and access to that system. These values enlist the legal profession in service of not only the client but also the administration of justice and the public good. Providers should incorporate these principles and values in their professionalism programming.

Examples of topics for a professionalism course include:

  • The relationship between legal practice and technology
  • Motion and trial practice, deposition training, negotiation strategies, settlement simulations, and mediation
  • Effective legal research techniques
  • Law practice management
  • Client communication and client relations
  • Techniques to address the misuse and abuse of discovery and litigation
  • Billable hours and responsible fees
  • Pro bono training

At the request of our providers, titles of professionalism courses that have previously been approved for professional responsibility credit include:

  • Negotiation Success Series
  • Fundamentals of Effective Client Communication
  • Settings & Customizations for Lawyers Using Android
  • Hands-On: Create Charts for Your Cases in Microsoft Excel
  • The Art & Science of Criminal Defense: Expert Advice to Sharpen Your Skills

Legal Ethics

The Rules of Professional Conduct establish minimal ethical standards that every lawyer must comply with in order to promote the highest standards of the legal profession. Examples of topics for a legal ethics course include:

  • Conflict between duty to client and duty to the system of justice or the public good
  • Conflict between duty to client and duty to opposing attorney
  • Attorneys’ responsibilities as an officer of the legal system
  • Spotting and avoiding malpractice
  • Other duties and responsibilities articulated in the Rules of Professional Conduct

At the request of our providers, titles of legal ethics courses that have previously been approved for professional responsibility credit include:

  • I Could Get Away with an Ethics Violation, But SHOULD I Do It?
  • Let’s Get Technical: Digital Security Ethics for Law Firms
  • From a Different Perspective: The Ethical Challenge Presented by Social Media Metadata
  • Conflicts of Interest: A Practical Legal Ethics Guide
  • Ethics of Going Into Business With Clients

Professional Responsibility Course Design

Effective adult education has little to do with the transfer of knowledge from a single expert or lecture from a podium that we traditionally associate with legal education. Adults learn best by puzzling through possible courses of action in light of actual practice situations and from hearing the wisdom and perspectives of experienced participants.

Successful providers and facilitators utilize hypotheticals, factual scenarios, role-play, and simulations to fully immerse their participants in professional responsibility learning. In recent years, many CLE providers have shown film clips as part of their CLE courses. The Commission encourages the use of film, as long as the film provides educational value and not merely entertainment value.

The goal is to equip lawyers with tools to transform their careers to manifest the highest ideals of our profession. Specifically, professional responsibility education:

  • Informs lawyers about how to apply the core values and ethical responsibilities of our profession in various settings
  • Encourages lawyers to engage in dialogue with their fellow attendees
  • Allows lawyers to apply the lessons of the course to their own professional situations
  • Provides lawyers with practical takeaways to utilize for a more professional life

Learning Objectives

All professional responsibility courses need concrete learning objectives where the provider identifies actions or behaviors that participants will be able to do as a result of the course. The learning objectives should not focus on what the presenter wishes to teach, but on what the participant will learn. Best practice learning objectives state, “Participants will learn to … .”

Design the course so that learning objectives will be met. If one of your goals is that participants be able to do something when they leave, then the class should contain an activity where participants actually perform that task. Hypotheticals, factual scenarios, role-play, and simulations are particularly suitable course formats for exploring topics in the area of professional responsibility. For example, if the course is on avoiding ethical conflicts of interest, include several hypotheticals or scenarios in the presentation, as well as the language of the relevant Rules of Professional Conduct, so that the participants can actually apply the applicable Rules to the hypothetical situation.

Basic Skills Course

Requirements for newly-admitted attorneys include a Basic Skills Course consisting of at least 6 hours of education dedicated to professional responsibility topics and issues. Providers’ CLE accreditation applications should provide sufficient information for us to determine whether appropriate professional responsibility topics are included in the plan for the Basic Skills Course.  New attorneys may satisfy this professional responsibility requirement through a mentoring program approved by the Commission.

Success Vision

Successful professional responsibility courses will:

  • Create in attorney attendees a habit of talking with colleagues and engaging in dialogue about professional responsibility topics
  • Encourage in lawyers the habit of reflection (or the ‘stop and think’ rule of morality)
  • Introduce lawyers to the changing drivers in the profession and equip them to cope with these realities
  • xpand lawyers’ horizons with respect to the richness and variety of the legal profession

Most importantly, each and every professional responsibility course should be designed to stimulate the lawyer’s imagination about the boundless potential of a professional life.