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The Courtís Commission on Professionalism Launches
New Online Course on Diversity and Implicit Bias

By Michelle Silverthorn, Diversity & Education Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

January 31, 2018

By the year 2044, the United States will not have a single ethnic majority. By 2060, one in five Americans will be foreign-born. And in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, babies of color were born the majority. In addition, the #MeToo movement has empowered millions of women to speak out on the many insidious forms of harassment and gender bias they face. As we all continue to navigate these challenges, it is clear that the legal profession needs to better represent the diverse identities of our nation.

At the same time, our legal profession’s wellness statistics remain troubling. The recent report from the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation showed that 21% of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28% struggle with some level of depression and 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. Attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these problems.

Both of these issues remain of central concern to the Illinois Supreme Court. That is why, in April 2017, the Court amended Supreme Court Rule 794(d) regarding professional responsibility CLE. The Rule now requires that Illinois lawyers take one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE and one hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE every two years.

Attorneys have a multitude of ways to fulfill the requirement, including through taking traditional live CLE programming, writing articles, teaching about diversity and well-being, and by completing the Court’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. For wellness courses in particular, the Lawyers’ Assistance Program continues its enormous task of traveling the state and delivering programming on attorney well-being, as well as offering online programming on mental health and substance abuse challenges.

As for us at the Commission on Professionalism, we have long been involved in the diversity space. The Court has tasked us with “foster[ing] commitment to the elimination of bias and divisiveness within the legal and judicial systems.” In keeping with that directive, this January, the Commission released its third online, interactive e-learning module, Rebalance the Scales: Implicit Bias, Diversity and the Legal Profession.

The one-hour course centers on documentary clips with experts who discuss diversity and inclusion challenges in the profession. The focus then turns to implicit bias as one of the primary factors inhibiting full inclusion in the profession. The experts discuss the neuroscience of implicit bias, how implicit bias plays out in the legal profession, and strategies to interrupt implicit bias. Finally, using the latest in interactive learning, course users navigate through real-life implicit bias scenarios and offer their advice on what action an attorney should take when encountering implicit bias.

We encourage all lawyers in Illinois to take the course. Judges are of course welcome to take the course as well. We are in the middle of a sea change in this profession when it comes to issues of diversity and well-being. It is incumbent on all of us to both navigate and direct this change, and equip ourselves with every tool we need to succeed.