August 28, 2017
Law students will comprise our next generation of attorneys and leaders of our profession. At the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, we work with law schools to create programs for law students throughout their school tenure. One such program is law school professionalism orientation.
For the past 11 years, the Commission on Professionalism has invited an Illinois judge or justice to come to an Illinois law school during their orientation week and speak to first-year law students on professionalism, civility, mentoring, and their journey to the bench. Following those remarks, each student stands and joins the judge as he or she leads them in the Pledge of Professionalism. The program takes place at all nine law schools in Illinois.
Over the years, dozens of judges and thousands of law students have recited the Pledge as part of their dedication and re-dedication to our profession. While we enjoy working with all of the schools on the program, we would be remiss if we did not highlight the program at Southern Illinois University School of Law.
SIU’s professionalism program was the inspiration for the Commission’s professionalism orientation program, developed even before the Commission was formally established by Supreme Court Rule 799. For half a semester, students discuss professionalism standards and draft their own Pledge of Professionalism. Then, on a fall evening, a Supreme Court Justice, a Commission representative, and the Dean of the law school join the first-year students in a formal Induction Ceremony, including leading them in their newly drafted Pledge. The ceremony, in front of the students' family and friends, is a moving reminder that law students are joining a profession with specific requirements of ethics and professionalism. It is a truly wonderful event.
In addition to the role of the judiciary, at three Illinois law schools, John Marshall, DePaul and Northern Illinois, lawyers facilitate discussions with small groups of first-year students. These discussions, held after the judges’ remarks, are often the first chance students have to experience a law school type class. The issues discussed do not offer easy answers. A supervising attorney orders you to take actions against opposing counsel you believe cross an ethical line and certainly a professionalism one. Your client is a criminal defendant who has posted incriminating pictures from the night of the crime on Facebook. An older white male partner and a younger black female associate are working together on a case but feel their relationship is plagued by misunderstandings. What should a young lawyer do? These are questions best answered by those with years of experience, who can impart life lessons, and the Rules of Professional Conduct, to future attorneys.
After more than a decade, professionalism orientation has cemented its role in Illinois law schools. We are grateful that our judges and attorneys are willing to show new law students how to engage with the ideals of professionalism at the start of their careers, and how to incorporate those ideals throughout the students’ academic and professional journey.