April 19, 2017
As Professionalism Counsel at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism,
Mark C. Palmer promotes civility and delivers statewide professionalism programming, including its mentoring program, across Illinois to lawyers and law students with a dedication to justice and the rule of law.
Trial attorneys feel at home in the well of the court, advocating for their clients. Veteran judges know the view from the bench well, conducting the court’s business. Courthouse employees across the Land of Lincoln constitute a well-oiled machine inside the brick and mortar buildings, each fulfilling their role serving justice for our citizens in civil and criminal matters, day after day.
But have you ever stopped to consider the administration of justice from the perspective of the patron? Maybe they are visiting the courthouse for the first time. Perhaps attending court to deal with a traffic ticket or find information on how to get an order of protection. Or maybe they were subpoenaed to be a witness or are attending a hearing to support a family member who was a victim to a crime. They may not speak English as a first language. Whatever the reason for the visit, the process and language of the business conducted in our courthouses can be bewildering and intimidating.
A Different Viewpoint
That’s why the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism developed its Courthouse Professionalism Training program. This training program brings together representatives from every segment of the courthouse – security, clerks, judges, court reporters, lawyers, administration, and so on – to step into the shoes of courthouse patrons to see their perceptions and understand their perspectives. The Commission challenges them to consider ways they can increase their professionalism and service to those who access our judicial system.
Past training events have taken place in the 14th Judicial Circuit in Rock Island (2015), the 8th Judicial Circuit in Quincy (2015), the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in Wheaton (2016), and the 19th Judicial Circuit in Waukegan (2016). The Commission is currently conducting four training sessions for the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings (2017).
Every Courthouse Professionalism Training is Unique
In preparation for the course, Commission staff meets with a team of personnel, including clerks, court reporters, sheriff deputies, lawyers and judges, hand-picked by the Chief Judge. This team coordinates planning of the program to make sure the program resonates with each circuit’s unique legal community.
The team identifies professionalism issues – both positive and negative – that have arisen in the courthouses. These issues frame the course development, including the content of an ice-breaker skit that serves to draw participants into the program.
The learning objectives of the program are for participants to recognize the challenges and perspectives of courthouse patrons and professionals, understand the connection between civility and professionalism and the public’s trust and confidence in our legal system, and apply strategies to improve courthouse patrons’ experience and strengthen professionalism. Attorney participants receive 2.0 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit. Court reporters attending the program have received continuing education credits as well.
After one of our sessions, a clerk was overheard saying to her judge, “Judge, I just want to say that I never thought about my job this way before. I am going to do better.” At another training, it was gratifying to hear a participant say at the end of the program that she already had a list of five things she is going to start to do differently in her workday to enhance professionalism. That’s what it is all about!
The Commission will continue to facilitate this program with judicial circuits throughout Illinois. Feel free to contact us at www.2civility.org/ if you want to learn more about the program or find out if your circuit will be doing a program in the near future.