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By Amy SpoonerFebruary 29, 2016
When it comes to lawyers behaving badly, Jayne Rizzo Reardon, '83, has been on both sides of the table. She spent a decade in enforcement—with Illinois' Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC)—and now has logged a decade in prevention, as head of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.
It's a good thing she has a solid left brain-right brain balance.
"When I first became interested in a legal career, I was attracted to the rules of social order," Rizzo Reardon says, e.g., the kind of work she did as a trial attorney and later at the ARDC. "But my current role requires me to be creative in getting the Commission's message across. Being inspiring is a very different challenge from being an enforcer."
The Illinois Supreme Court established its Commission on Professionalism in 2005, in response to a nationwide meeting of state Supreme Court justices that focused on the increased aggressiveness and incivility among lawyers. "The integrity of the profession, in the eyes of the public was suffering," Rizzo Reardon says, "and so was the personal satisfaction among practitioners." Illinois initially established a Committee on Civility, but subsequent conversations and research identified a bigger problem—a general lack of professionalism that included a systemic failure to adapt to changes in the field, and the need for more diversity. When the Committee recommended that the Illinois Supreme Court establish a professionalism commission instead, Rizzo Reardon jumped at the chance to build it. "The idea of working proactively to support and educate the profession, instead of reactively to punish the bad apples, was very appealing," she says.
The Commission has a broad mandate to promote increased civility, integrity, and inclusion among lawyers and judges in Illinois. Much of its efforts are focused on providing training opportunities that fulfill the state bar's continuing legal education requirement in the area of professional responsibility—each Illinois attorney must complete six hours in this subject every two years. In Illinois, the definition of professional responsibility goes beyond the traditional notions of ethics and rules. ("Learning how to avoid being the subject of a disciplinary action isn't exactly setting a high bar when it comes to professionalism," says Rizzo Reardon.) Approved courses focus on topics ranging from personal wellness to working with a diverse group of lawyers, including a new online course about intergenerational communication.
In addition, under Rizzo Reardon's leadership, the Commission has launched a mentoring program—which also satisfies the professional responsibility CLE requirement. Since its 2012 inception, 4,500 lawyers have participated, and she hopes to expand the program in the coming years. "Connecting different perspectives is beneficial for everyone involved, especially in an age where technology makes a lot of our work very disconnected from personal interaction," she says. At the same time, however, the Commission is relying on technology—social media, in particular—to spread the word about its activities to the state's 92,000 lawyers. "I could travel endlessly, speaking to groups of 100, and never make close to the same impact," says Rizzo Reardon.
Over the Commission's first decade, data shows an increased awareness among Illinois lawyers about the importance of professionalism and the fact that it means more than being nice and playing fair. In addition, Rizzo Reardon has plenty of anecdotal evidence that the Commission's work is striking a chord. "We are hearing that our programming is reminding people of why they went to law school. It connects them to a higher purpose, which is energizing. The pressures facing our profession offer us a great opportunity to change the paradigm and be more responsive to our clients. Over and over again, lawyers have been instrumental in using their skill sets to make incredible societal changes. That same energy is needed now, and I think people are heeding the call."
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