Results of 2014 Survey on Professionalism Released

All in all, a vast majority of Illinois attorneys are perceived by their colleagues as civil and professional, according to a 2014 survey of Illinois attorneys released today. At least 90 percent of survey respondents reported that most of their colleagues exhibit either civil/professional or very civil/professional behavior.

However, more than 85 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one instance of uncivil or unprofessional behavior within the past six months, with sarcastic or condescending attitudes, misrepresenting or stretching the facts, or negotiating in bad faith as the most reported unprofessional behavior.

“Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that there is plenty of room for improvement,” said Judge Debra B. Walker, chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. “That said, I am gratified to see that nine out of 10 attorneys who responded to our survey perceive their colleagues as exhibiting civil and professional behavior.”

The 2014 Survey on Professionalism was designed by the Commission on Professionalism in collaboration with the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics at the University of Illinois (NCPRE). The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission provided the Commission a randomized sample list of attorneys, proportionate by gender and location, within Illinois’ five Judicial Districts. The sample was divided by quartiles by years of admission to the bar.

This survey was web-based, and resulted in 4,450 attorneys who completed the survey. This survey was based on, and in some respects updates, the Commission’s first Survey on Professionalism conducted in 2007. That survey was completed by only 1,079 attorneys.

Three broad types of unprofessional behavior were identified in both the 2007 and 2014 surveys: prejudice, rudeness, and strategic incivility.

Prejudicial behavior includes inappropriate comments about a lawyer based on race, age, or gender. Rudeness includes a sarcastic or condescending attitude, or belittling language. Strategic incivility is a more deliberate behavior on the part of uncivil lawyers, including the misrepresentation or stretching the facts, playing hardball, or indiscriminate or frivolous use of pleadings or motions. Strategic incivility was the most reported unprofessional behavior experienced by survey respondents.

Even when confronted with unprofessional behavior by another attorney, fewer than 2% of attorneys who responded to the survey said they would respond in kind, a decrease from 4% of attorneys surveyed in 2007.

Illinois attorneys who responded to the survey reported that unprofessional and uncivil behavior has a significant negative impact on the practice, with:

  • 94 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreeing that unprofessional behavior makes resolving a matter more difficult;
  • 91 percent strongly or somewhat agreeing that unprofessional behavior harms public/client confidence in the judicial system, and;
  • 89 percent strongly or somewhat agreeing that unprofessional behavior leads to an increase in litigation/transaction costs.

A variety of initiatives or programs to improve civility and professionalism was suggested by respondents, with the following mentioned most frequently: imposing or enforcing consequences through the court system; training on civility/professionalism; mandatory continuing legal education on civility/professionalism; educating judges to better deal with incivility; increasing law school professionalism training; and creating a mechanism for reporting to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission or other tribunal. These suggestions mirror the ones reported in the 2007 survey.

“The Commission on Professionalism is committed to promoting the highest standards of behavior in our profession, and we will use this valuable feedback from the members of the bench and bar to refine our work in advancing professionalism,” Judge Walker said.

The survey can be found on the Commission’s website. The Commission on Professionalism was established by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2005 to promote increased civility, professionalism, and inclusion among lawyers and judges in Illinois.

For more information, please contact Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

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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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