Illinois Supreme Court mandates diversity and mental health training for lawyers

April 14, 2017 | By Chandra Lye

The Illinois Supreme Court has instituted a program that it believes will boost sensitivity to diversity and mental health issues in the legal profession in the state.

The Amended Supreme Court Rule 794(d) requires that all lawyers in the state complete an hour of diversity and inclusion continuing lawyer education (CLE) as well as another hour of mental health and substance abuse training as part of the Professional Responsibility CLE requirement.

Attorneys will still be permitted to get their required time by taking the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program.

The change was made to better suit attorneys in keeping up with their continuing education requirements.

“The Court’s experience has shown that lawyers have not been seeking out or cannot find continuing legal education programs that might offer meaningful help in addressing their own substance abuse and mental health issues or those of their colleagues,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier said. “We have also noted that as Illinois and the Illinois bar have become more diverse, there has been a marked lag in interest in educational programs addressed to facilitating diversity and inclusion generally and in the legal profession specifically.”

Karmeier added that it was the court’s hope that the amendment would help foster a legal profession that was more open to other perspectives and experiences in a multicultural society.

Studies have shown that courses on diversity and mental health are often overlooked by lawyers when they seek out continuing education credits, including data that has been gathered by the Commission on Professionalism.

“We are delighted that the Supreme Court adopted the Commission’s recommendation,” Judge Debra B. Walker, Chair of the Commission on Professionalism, said. “The aim of professional responsibility CLE is to serve as a catalyst to increased professionalism, and we are hopeful that this change will result in the improved health and inclusion of lawyers across our state.”

Only seven out of 45 states that have mandatory CLE have allowed for courses in diversity and inclusion to qualify for credit.

The Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board and the Lawyers’ Assistance Program also had input into the amendment.

The new requirements go into effect on July 1.

The changes will not alter the total number of hours that will need to be fulfilled as part of the professional responsibility requirement, which remains at six. The total number of CLE credits that are required every two years is 30.

For more information or to read the full amended decision go to: www.illinoiscourts.gov/SupremeCourt/Rules.

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