College of Law launches professionalism series, first-year students learn history, culture, values

Cherilyn G. Murer
Cherilyn G. Murer

NIU’s College of Law has created a new and innovative program for its first-year students, “Introduction to the Legal Profession: History, Culture, and Values.”

This program is being funded through the generosity of Cherilyn (’78) and Michael Murer, whose dedication to professionalism is infused throughout the series.

Murer, president and CEO of the Murer Consultants, Inc., a legal-based health care consulting group headquartered in Joliet, is chair of the NIU Board of Trustees.

The new program will further integrate professionalism into the law school curriculum, in response to the growing recognition that law students (and lawyers) need more guidance in professionalism to further the highest values of the profession. It consists of five lectures featuring nationally recognized legal practitioners and scholars discussing cutting-edge issues.

“The program is built upon the belief that a lawyer’s moral compass be acquired when the study of law begins, rather than by experience during one’s professional career (and often the hard way through trial and error),” College of Law Dean Jennifer Rosato said.

Attorney Dale Coventry spoke at the opening lecture in the series, held Sept. 7.

Coventry addressed attorney-client confidentiality issues in general and took an in-depth look into the nationally publicized and highly controversial Alton Logan case. Coventry was one of the lawyers who represented a client who admitted to a murder for which Alton Logan was found guilty in 1982. Due to attorney-client privilege, Coventry was not able to reveal the information until after his client’s death in 2007.

NIU law professor Laurel Rigertas, a noted scholar on professional responsibility and regular speaker on legal ethics to bar associations throughout Illinois, served as the moderator. Rigertas also gave students a Sept. 1 lecture on “Introduction to Confidentiality Issues.”

Upcoming lectures include:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 5, 4 to 5:15 p.m. Topic: “Representing the Unpopular Client.” Guest Speaker: Professor Randall T. Coyne, The University of Oklahoma College of Law.
  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 4 to 6 p.m. Topic: “Moral Consciousness and the Effective Advocate.” Guest Speaker: Professor Geoffrey Hazard, University of Hastings Law School.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 2, 4 to 5:15 p.m. Topic: “Danger Zones” for Law Students /New Lawyers.” A Panel Discussion
  • Wednesday, Nov. 9, 4 to 5:15 p.m. Topic: “Doing the Right Thing.” Guest Speaker(s): Cherilyn Murer and guests
Jennifer L. Rosato
Jennifer L. Rosato

The Oct. 13 and Nov. 9 lectures will be followed by a “Continue the Conversation” dinner and/or reception, where practitioners-facilitators will engage with first-year students in small groups to encourage discussion on the issues presented in the lecture.

“Students will benefit from hearing the perspectives of practitioners who understand these issues of professionalism in practice,” Rosato said, “and who grapple with the competing values to reach the best decision possible.”

This program is one of many efforts that have been developed by NIU Law to address the increasing need for ethics education throughout law school, early and often.

Members of the Class of 2014 began their first year of law school with a week of orientation, which included an oath of professionalism administered by Justice Susan F. Hutchinson of the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District.

Following the oath, students participated in small group discussions led by commissioners of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

Throughout the school year, NIU Law hosts a number of other programs centered on professionalism and other related topics, including the annual Francis X. Riley Lecture on Professionalism.

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