July 25, 2017
Attorney regulation in the United States has typically been reactive. As a result, the focus of lawyer regulatory efforts has been aimed at addressing problems in a lawyer’s practice that have already arisen. Yet, in January of this year, Illinois took a significant step to expand the focus of attorney regulation in Illinois with the adoption of Proactive Management Based Regulation (PMBR). While the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) will still act when a problem in a lawyer’s practice arises, the ARDC, as directed by the Illinois Supreme Court, is focusing its recent efforts on being proactive; helping to minimize the risks that trigger disciplinary and malpractice problems.
In 2016, approximately 68,000 Illinois lawyers were engaged in the active practice of law; 13,500 of which were sole proprietors. Astonishingly, 41% of these sole proprietors did not maintain malpractice insurance. A lawyer who has not obtained malpractice insurance has not gone through the insurance application process requiring a lawyer to review and analyze the risks associated with the practice of law. Here’s where the ARDC’s proactive approach comes into play.
In accordance with the January 2017 amendment to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(e), beginning in 2018, a lawyer who does not maintain malpractice insurance must complete a four-hour online self-assessment course regarding the operations of their law firm or obtain malpractice insurance in order to register to practice law for the following year. For the lawyer who chooses not to obtain malpractice insurance, s/he must complete a self-assessment course every two years in order to register.
The ARDC is responsible for administering the PMBR self-assessment course and has an exciting program in store for Illinois lawyers. The PMBR course is being developed in an interactive educational program and will be administered online through the ARDC’s website. The four-hour course will be divided into approximately eight learning modules. Some of the topics that will be included in the 2018 release of the PMBR course are: 1) Technology and Ethics; 2) Client Relationships; 3) Fees, Costs and Billing; 4) Trust Account and Record Management; 5) Conflicts of Interest; 6) Civility; 7) Diversity and Inclusion; and 8) Attorney Wellness.
Through the PMBR course, lawyers will learn the professional responsibility requirements for practicing law and operating a law firm, and hear from a number of experienced professionals about best business practices and skills. In addition, the course will require lawyers to demonstrate an understanding of these requirements through interactive scenarios, knowledge checks and quiz questions. This interactive style of learning will be both practicable and helpful for lawyers. Lawyers will then review the operations of their firm in light of what they have learned. At the end of each course module, lawyers will be provided with helpful resources, including sample forms and letters, articles, ethics opinions and fact sheets. Lawyers will also receive an individualized self-assessment printout documenting the results of each module’s self-assessment quiz. No minimum score is required for the quiz. The results are purely for the educational benefit of the lawyer taking the e-lesson. Moreover, as Rule 756(e)(2) states, all information related to the assessment will be confidential, except for the fact of course completion. Lawyers are encouraged to work through the course with an open mind, honestly answering each question in order to receive all the benefits the course has to offer.
The PMBR course will be available for the 2018 registration season and accessible from the ARDC website (www.iardc.org). Lawyers will be able to take the course on most electronic devices at various times and in various increments. Yet, the entire four-hour course must be completed by lawyers in private practice who do not maintain malpractice insurance in order to register for 2019. Lawyers in private practice who maintain malpractice insurance and lawyers not in private practice will be able to take the course and are encouraged to do so. The course is free, and completion of all or part of the course qualifies for Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) professional responsibility credits.
The Supreme Court and the ARDC want Illinois lawyers to succeed in the practice of law. The PMBR course is expected to help lawyers do just that, by providing them with the tools for better practice management.