Change is coming to Illinois’ Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. After 16 years, Jerome “Jerry” Larkin is stepping down as ARDC Administrator, and Lea Gutierrez is stepping into that role. On behalf of the Supreme Court, I would like to thank Mr. Larkin for his dedicated service and to welcome Ms. Gutierrez. Here they both are to comment on the transition.
By Jerome Larkin, outgoing Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois (ARDC):
I am honored to have served the Court, the Commission, the profession, and the public during my 45-year career as a lawyer at the ARDC. As a service-inspired graduate of the Chicago archdiocesan high school and college seminary system and a graduate of a public service-oriented law school (Loyola Chicago), I could not have found a more meaningful, fulfilling career. I am very grateful to have had a career of opportunity at the ARDC.
I have had the privilege of serving as Administrator for the last 16 years, building on the exceptional leadership and accomplishments of my three predecessors: founding Administrator Carl H. Rolewick, and then John C. O’Malley, and finally Mary Robinson. I treasure my service as a member of each of their senior leadership teams. Much was accomplished under their leadership. Our Court and the ARDC have long led the way nationally in the lawyer regulatory field.
We on the ARDC staff are so pleased that the Court and the Commission selected Lea Gutierrez as the next ARDC Administrator. Lea worked closely with us for 15 years, excelling as a litigator, senior litigator, litigation group manager, and our founding DEI Director. She has the judgment and compassion, as well as the strategic, collaborative, and inclusive leadership skills, to build on the successes of the Court and the ARDC. She is the second woman and first person of color to serve as Administrator.
I have been asked to comment briefly upon key accomplishments in lawyer regulation in Illinois during my time as Administrator. As I do so, I am cognizant that the success stories are best credited as “our” accomplishments, not “mine.” Our organization is a collaborative “we,” not “me” organization. Our story encompasses the direction and guidance of the Court, and the insight and judgment of our Commission (our Board of Directors), the contributions of the many other lawyer and public members or our boards, and the perspectives and advocacy of our colleagues who represent lawyers in matters before the ARDC and beyond. We benefit from extensive collaboration with other entities of the Court and from our relationship with our colleagues who lead bar associations in our state.
I focus separately on our engaged, creative, excellent colleagues on the ARDC staff. They have had substantial, ongoing impact in the development and the execution of our key initiatives and the handling of the day-to-day ARDC operations. Those staff handle regulatory matters with care, compassion, and excellent judgment. The work of our staff is not easy; they handle it with grace and skill.
As staff, we strive to meet our mission statement each day: to promote and protect the integrity of the legal profession, at the direction of the Supreme Court, through attorney registration, education, investigation, prosecution, and remedial action. Our work makes us more than a traditional disciplinary agency.
Here’s a look at some key accomplishments during the last 16 years:
- For years, we have provided lawyers with online and in-person education and guidance related to practicing law, including a relatively recent initiative: a well-received, online, interactive, free CLE, practice-related self-assessment (Proactive Management Based Regulation, or PMBR for short).
- We address lower-level grievances with understanding and compassion for both the lawyer and the complainant, often finding a remedial solution short of discipline for less serious misconduct. We use a relatively new form of diversion that does not require admission of misconduct by the lawyer.
- We use the skills of others to engage those who have mental health, addiction, or other issues that affect practice, by referrals to the Lawyers’ Assistance Program (“LAP”) or the intervention of independent ARDC Intermediaries to engage lawyers. The Court approved the referrals of confidential disciplinary information to LAP and authorized the establishment of the independent intermediary program.
- We use permanent retirement as a gracious exit from the profession, including for those who are in cognitive decline.
- We do pursue disciplinary action when the misconduct is serious, and the lawyer poses a risk to the profession or clients or has caused identifiable harm. Over the last several years, we bring about one-half of the number of proceedings brought previously, and we have right-sized our staff to handle this reduced caseload.
- We issued our ARDC Statement on Racism on June 29, 2020, with the approval of the Supreme Court. In that Statement, we observed that racial and civil unrest have caused us to think deeply and differently about how we may more effectively meet our obligation to combat racism and support justice for all, which we publicly shared with hope and commitment. We continue to be informed by our Statement.
- As we have throughout our 50-year history, we act as prudent stewards of the funding that the Court entrusts to us to operate its regulatory agency. Annually, we receive $210 per active status lawyer.
- We continue to administer an effective Client Protection Program, reimbursing clients for funds dishonestly taken by lawyers who are later disciplined.
- We continue to improve the annual, online registration process, recognizing registering lawyers as our customers. As an example, with the guidance and approval of the Court, unlimited registration penalties and lapsed annual fee charges were eliminated in favor of a reinstatement fee capped at $600.
- We continue to study new regulatory models to assist the Court in fashioning an appropriate regulatory framework for a legal sector marketplace that continues to evolve.
- We have navigated the pandemic by operating remotely, avoiding health risk to all involved in regulatory matters, while keeping current on our work.
- We have successfully transitioned to cloud computing, which supported our remote work during the pandemic and now supports our current hybrid working arrangement in newly renovated offices in Springfield and Chicago. We reduced the footprint of our Chicago office by about 40%, with a corresponding reduction in rent.
- We continue to lead in our professional associations: the National Organization of Bar Counsel and the International Conference of Legal Regulators, whose last three conferences we hosted.
By Lea Gutierrez, new ARDC Administrator:
I’d like to thank Jerry for his kind words, his confidence in me, and, most of all, his careful stewardship of the ARDC for the past 16 years. I intend to use my best efforts to help the ARDC lead the way in creating a future where resources and regulations support lawyers in practicing law with the highest standards of ethics and professionalism.
I am inspired and motivated by the fact that, at the Court’s direction and under Jerry’s leadership, the ARDC has grown from being principally a registration and discipline entity to providing a myriad of educational and remedial services to Illinois lawyers. I strongly believe that the Court’s objectives in protecting the public and the integrity of the legal profession are best accomplished by preventing attorney discipline. Therefore, my focus will include evaluating, enhancing, and expanding the ARDC’s efforts to support and serve as a resource for lawyers so that they have everything they need to serve their clients ethically.
My approach will be inclusive and collaborative – engaging with ARDC staff and volunteers, sibling agencies, and the profession at large to better understand the evolving needs and challenges of the practice of law in Illinois. Leveraging the collective wisdom of those involved in the lawyer regulatory system, as well as the members of the broader bar, will allow the ARDC to make data-informed decisions about how we can tailor our services to better meet those needs. I also hope and believe that ongoing listening and sharing of information and ideas will help establish or deepen existing relationships within the bar and enable the ARDC to better partner with other entities and meet common objectives.