Professionalism in a Pandemic with the Illinois Inns of Court

inns of courtThe American Inns of Court celebrated Professionalism Month in April. However, the professionalism challenges its members are facing in 2020 are a bit different than in years past.

The American Inns of Court is a nationwide professional association consisting of more than 30,000 members across the legal community, including federal and state judges, lawyers, law professors, and law students. The organization promotes professional excellence through networking, mentoring, and continuing education opportunities centered on ethics and professionalism.

The organization includes more than 400 chartered American Inns of Court across the U.S. Membership is divided into “pupillage teams,” with each team consisting of members of varying levels of experience.

In Illinois, seven local Inns of Courts cover the state geographically. We spoke to representatives from several of the state’s Inns about how they’ve adapted their programming in response to the coronavirus and what the pandemic means for the future of the profession.

Sara Siegall, President of the Chicago Lincoln American Inn of Court in Chicago


How are the Inns of Court helping legal professionals navigate the coronavirus?

We’ve asked our members to pass along any resources they may have authored, or have access to, addressing the varied ways in which COVID-19 has impacted the practice of law or the application of existing (and new or changing) law across many substantive areas.

How is your Inn supporting its members?

We are currently gauging members’ interest in receiving pupilage team presentations via Zoom while in-person gatherings aren’t possible. If there is sufficient interest, then pupilage teams that were slated to present in person at our March, April, and May meetings will instead plan and deliver online presentations.

We’re reaching out to members to place interested “masters” and “pupils” in mentor/mentee pairings for added support during this difficult time period. Finally, we are collecting potential job leads from members and their networks and circulating those opportunities to our members in a bi-weekly email.

Shyama S. Parikh, President of the Jefferson American Inn of Court in Lake County


How will the coronavirus impact the future of the legal and judicial professions? 

The Jefferson American Inn of Court in Lake County, Illinois, is one of the oldest Inns and we are proud to have had a long line of distinguished presidents that have led our members through challenging times over the years.

The future of the legal and judicial profession will certainly change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and our hope is that we can invest time to really consider and/or improve in areas that may have needed it.

For example, we are now heavily relying on technology to address certain cases and/or matters that are time-sensitive. As a result, we will likely need to update and/or upgrade the courthouse and/or judges chambers to accommodate legal professionals as well as the litigants.

How is your Inn supporting its members?

Our circuit judges have done an amazing job keeping us updated as they make tough decisions on a regular basis. Our Inn is concerned about the health and safety of our members and we have postponed meetings and delayed making important decisions so that everyone can focus on the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.

Brent P. Ray, Program Chair, Richard Linn American Inn of Court in Chicago


How have you adapted your professionalism programming?

We’ve adapted in two principal ways – both of which support our members.

First, we’ve moved all mentoring meetings to videoconferences. This has allowed mentoring groups to stay in communication and offer much-needed advice and reassurance to younger Inn members during these uncertain times.

Second, we’ve turned our May Inn program into a virtual panel. Specifically, we’ve assembled various Inn members – a judge, in-house counsel, two private practice attorneys, a law professor, and a law student – to talk about how COVID has changed (or not changed) their professional lives, and what are the lessons learned thus far. [We’re] also going to have the panelists talk about the best advice they’ve received on how to deal with adversity/uncertainty.

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The Commission on Professionalism is proud to partner with several of the state’s Inns of Court on the Illinois Supreme Court’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. To find out if your Inn is a partner, visit our website.

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2Civility is the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s communication channel. “2” because we are fostering transformation. “Civility” because it’s the moral code that binds us together as a society, and as the legal profession, encouraging a productive exchange of perspectives and rejecting disrespect for individuals or classes of people. We advance the highest standards of conduct among lawyers to better serve clients and society.
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