The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed a former Illinois State Bar Association president to head a new agency dedicated to improving civility among lawyers.
Cheryl Niro, a partner with Quinlan & Carroll in Chicago, will assume her full-time role as executive director of the Commission on Professionalism on April 3.
"No one is more qualified for this position than Cheryl Niro," said Chief Justice Robert R. Thomas, who initiated the concept of the Commission to improve professionalism among lawyers and judges.
"Cheryl's commitment to serving the legal profession is unsurpassed, and we are truly lucky to have her on board."
The purpose of the Commission is "to promote among the lawyers and judges of Illinois principles of integrity, professionalism and civility; to foster commitment to the elimination of bias and divisiveness within the legal and judicial systems; and to ensure that those systems provide equitable, effective and efficient resolution of problems and disputes for the people of Illinois."
At Thomas' urging, the Court established a committee on professionalism in 2001, which was a precursor to the Comnission.
When Thomas persuaded his colleagues to establish the committee, he spoke about the changing nature of the practice of law being different than in days past "when a lawyer's handshake meant something and a lawyer's word was his bond.
"In this day and age," Thomas said, "with competition in the profession for dollars and clients, activities sometimes degenerate into a Rambo-style, win-at-all-cost attitude by attorneys."
Niro was president of the ISBA from 1999 to 2000, a member of its Board of Governors from 1994 to 2000, and active in the governance of the American Bar Association since 1994.
She also was instrumental in the early groundwork of the committee, volunteering as a program facilitator at statewide "Town Hall" meetings that brought in the views of attorneys and judges on issues of professionalism, diversity and equality within the profession.
"I am proud to be an Illinois lawyer, and am grateful for this opportunity to serve my profession and my colleagues at the bar," Niro said. "It has been said that the business of America is business, but the spirit of America has always been the Rule of Law.
"We are charged with the duty to preserve and protect the Rule of Law and must never let that mission become lost in the business of practicing law.
"In creating the commission, the Court has given us a tool to reshape our workplace into one that more closely represents the core values of our profession."
Niro will work with the Commission's 14 members and a full-time, paid stuff. The Commission is funded entirely by lawyers, through a $10 increase in the annual registration fee paid by attorneys.
In addition to developing and approving professionalism and related courses certified under the Minimum Continuing Legal Education program, the Commission is charged generally with "creating and promoting an awareness of professionalism by all members of the Illinois bar and bench."
It will serve as a resource for information on professionalism, develop statements on principles of ethical and professional responsibility to encourage, guide and assist lawyers on the ethical and professional tenets of the profession; collaborate with law schools in the development and presentation of professionalism programs for law students and recommend to the Court means and methods of improving the profession.
Illinois is believed to be one of only 13 states with a permanent commission to promote an awareness of professionalism by all members of the bar and bench, according to a press released issued by the Illinois Supreme Court.