Ending Harassment, Bullying and Incivility in the Legal Profession with the Commission on Professionalism

Dan Davies and Stephanie Villinski, interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski

@theBar: The Commission on Professionalism has had a very busy year so far. As of June 18, it also launched a new online CLE that tackles incivility in the legal profession. Can you tell us a little more about the CLE?

Dan Davies: Ending Harassment, Bullying and Incivility in the Legal Workplace is a one-hour interactive eLearning course. The course focuses on what constitutes incivility, provides examples of uncivil behavior from the legal field and highlights basic strategies to manage these situations. The eLearning course also addresses some of the more common organizational barriers to a civil and equitable workplace.

@theBar: What types of behavior lead to incivility?

Stephanie Villinski: In 2014, the Commission on Professionalism engaged the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics to conduct a professionalism survey of Illinois lawyers. The report found that 85% of Illinois lawyers had experienced uncivil behavior. This behavior fell under three broad categories: prejudice, rudeness and strategic incivility. The largest margin of respondents (51%) experienced strategic incivility, which is particularly troubling as it represents deliberate acts.

@theBar: Why is incivility such a big issue in the legal profession?

Stephanie Villinski: Lawyers have a duty to represent their clients. At the same time, they have a responsibility to the legal system and the quality of justice administered. These three sets of obligations are laid out in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Lawyers work in tense, high-pressure environments where the stakes are high. Clients come to us at the worst moments of their lives. Unfortunately, many lawyers believe that aggressive behavior toward opposing counsel is effective and rewarded by better settlements or rulings for clients. But that’s not the case.

Uncivil conduct leads to more costly resolutions of matters, reduces public confidence in the profession and prolongs discovery and negotiations. Moreover, incivility discourages industry diversity and attorney well-being, which are essential for the health of the profession.

@theBar: What are some of the potential consequences of incivility if we do not work to eliminate this problem?

Stephanie Villinski: Incivility significantly impacts lawyers’ ability to deliver valuable legal services that meet client needs. If we’re spending our billable hours harassing each other, delaying trials or abusing filings, what kind of service are we delivering to our clients? And if we’re not providing prompt and efficient service, why would they hire us as lawyers?

Many clients who would have gone to an attorney in the past are now seeking out cheaper and easier alternatives online. The delivery of efficient, personal and civil legal services is an essential value-add for our profession.

@theBar: What should people expect to take away from this course and how can they access it?

Dan Davies: Lawyers should expect to take away different things from this course, depending on their current awareness of and comfort with the topic.

Overall, the interactive eLearning course will help lawyers understand the forms of incivility in the legal workplace, recognize the causes and consequences of workplace incivility, and incorporate effective tools for managing incivility in their organization and in person-to-person interactions.

The course is accessible through our website, www.2civility.org, under the “Programs,” “CLE” and then “Free Online CLE” menu items.

@theBar: How much does it cost for attorneys to take the course?

Dan Davies: The course is free. One of the core goals of the Commission on Professionalism is to provide access to high-quality legal education for all attorneys licensed in Illinois. Our online and in-person CLEs, as well as our mentoring program, are all offered at no cost to participants.

@theBar: June 30 is the MCLE deadline for many attorneys. Can they use this course to obtain CLE credit?

Dan Davies: Absolutely. The course is accredited for one hour of professional responsibility CLE credit in Illinois. In addition, the Commission offers three other free online CLE courses on our website, one of which qualifies for the required one hour of diversity and inclusion credit in Illinois.

@theBar: Is the Commission on Professionalism developing any new programming? If so, when will it be released?

Dan Davies: The legal industry is changing rapidly. With this comes new challenges and opportunities for lawyers. The Commission is constantly evaluating opportunities to develop new courses that help Illinois lawyers navigate these challenges, as well as to improve upon our existing courses.

Currently, we’re in early development on our fifth online CLE, which will qualify for one hour of mental health and substance abuse professional responsibility CLE credit in Illinois. We expect to launch this CLE in late 2019.

In addition, we’re exploring opportunities to create an interactive learning experience that will dive deeper into the topics discussed at our popular The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference.

About Dan:

dan daviesDan Davies is the Education Manager at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He manages the Commission’s educational programming aimed at promoting a more professional, civil and inclusive legal profession. 




About Stephanie:

stephanie villenskiStephanie Villinski is the Deputy Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. She helps to execute operations and programs within the Commission by leveraging technology and project management processes.

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