Illinois Bar Journal

July 2011Volume 99Number 7Page 330

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Statewide mentoring program launched by supreme court

Both mentors and mentees in the voluntary program will earn PMCLE credit.

Partnering with ISBA and other law-related entities and institutions, the Illinois Supreme Court is inaugurating a statewide Lawyer Mentoring Program through its Commission on Professionalism. And as the result of the court's amendment of its rules last year, both mentors and new attorneys receiving mentoring may receive professional responsibility CLE credit for their participation, and Illinois becomes one of a half-dozen states with formalized mentoring programs.

Credit up to the PMCLE minimum

SCR 795(d)(12), adopted in October 2010, provides that lawyers who complete a comprehensive year-long structured mentoring program that has been preapproved by the Commission on Professionalism, may earn up to the minimum professional responsibility credit during the two-year reporting period of completion. Credit is available both to mentors and mentees. Mentees must complete the program during their first three years of practice in Illinois.

For reporting periods ending in 2011 or earlier, participants may receive up to four professional responsibility credit hours. Beginning with the reporting periods ending on June 30 of either 2012 or 2013, they may receive up to six hours of credit.

Now, on June 13, 2011, the court has announced that its Commission on Professionalism has developed documents and other materials that will help guide lawyers and organizations such as ISBA who wish to develop mentoring programs that will qualify for credit under the supreme court rule.

In its press release, the court said those materials include a comprehensive plan to guide mentoring pairs through activities and discussions throughout their participation in a 12-month mentoring program. The court noted that apart from those materials, the program will rely on local organizations for administration instead of formal direction from a statewide entity such as the commission.

In formalizing this program, the court said that it is building on an initiative of Justice Robert R. Thomas, the current supreme court liaison to the Commission on Professionalism. Thomas oversaw the commission's creation during his term as chief justice and made his concerns about professionalism a theme of his term, deploring effective client advocacy transforming into unseemly and unprofessional take-no-prisoners litigation tactics.

Current Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride recalled his first years as an attorney with Prairie State Legal Services. "While there was no formal legal mentoring program, the practical learning that I received from more experienced attorneys with Prairie State could not have been more valuable. Not only did it help me, but it served justice by helping me help my clients better."

The seventeenth circuit example

Former ISBA president Mark D. Hassakis praised the court for its announcement and action. "The Illinois Supreme Court and its Commission on Professionalism are to be commended for recognizing the need for an organized effort to provide mentoring to new lawyers as they enter the profession. With the crucial backing of the court, this program will go a step beyond by addressing a very real need: to help new lawyers start their practices on a sound footing."

Hassakis said ISBA stands ready to pitch in for the court, for local bar associations assisting in mentoring programs, and for new lawyers. Echoing Kilbride's words, Hassakis said, "The positive effect mentoring had on the development of my own career is something I remember every time the opportunity comes up to mentor a new lawyer, which I do within my firm, and in response to requests from new lawyers statewide. I can attest to the satisfaction of knowing that my help is making a difference for young lawyers just starting out."

The court noted that the Commission on Professionalism had drawn on the best practices developed by the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, which was the first jurisdiction in the state to implement a formal mentoring program, and on the input of a statewide advisory committee in developing its materials. The commission's chair, Gordon Nash, said he and his fellow commission members believe that the mentoring program will not only help reinforce important core professional values for new lawyers but also "will energize and elevate the professionalism of the entire bar."

On the same day, the court announced the organization of a formal mentoring program in Peoria County, in conjunction with the Peoria County Bar Association and other area lawyers.

More information about the program is available on the Commission on Professionlism's website at

Helen W. Gunnarsson is a lawyer and writer in Highland Park. She can be reached at <>

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