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Bloomington's John Kim is the first downstate lawyer to serve as Illinois Supreme Court's chief civility czar

A man wearing a white shirt and blue, plaid sportscoat smiles at the camera while sitting in a radio studio.
Lauren Warnecke
Bloomington attorney John Kim is the first person from downstate Illinois to become chair of the state Supreme Court's Commission on Professionalism.

Bloomington-based attorney John Kim has been appointed chair of the Illinois Supreme Court's Commission on Professionalism.

Kim succeeds Martin Sinclair, who chaired the commission for four years. Filling Kim’s now vacant vice-chair position is Justice Sharon Johnson from the Illinois First District Appellate Court.

Commissioners are charged with providing mentorship and training for early-career lawyers, judges and courts, and promoting civility and professionalism throughout the legal profession.

“The main issues that we’re seeing in the profession is incivility—which I think correlates with the climate in our country in terms of divisiveness—and the ongoing conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion," said Kim in an interview.

The commission hears concerns about a “broken” system that doesn’t work equally for all citizens of Illinois. As chief civility czar for the Illinois justice system, Kim said there is a difference between fighting for a client or cause and incivility.

“Lawyers are zealous advocates,” he said. “Where we’re trying to address issues are where that zealous advocacy goes overboard or perhaps crosses the line. That impacts not only folks who are accessing the court system, but frankly, it also impacts the cost of litigation and cost throughout the system.”

Justice Rita Garman appointed Kim to the commission in 2019, succeeding Jeff Jackson in the Fourth District. Garman was the longest-serving judge in Illinois and first woman to serve in the Fourth District Appellate Court. She retired in 2022.

“It was a unique appointment,” Kim said, “in that both Jeff and I were both the only in-house or corporate lawyers on the commission.”

Kim is associate general counsel at Edward Jones and previously worked with Jackson as in-house counsel at State Farm for a decade.

“I’m proud to serve as the chair this year,” said Kim. “It’s a unique opportunity and a privilege to serve the profession in this manner.”

Attorney shortage

Another focus of the commission is addressing a dire attorney shortage in rural and downstate Illinois. That makes Kim’s appointment particularly significant. He is the first downstate lawyer to chair the organization since its formation in 2005.

“Access to justice is generally an issue throughout the state of Illinois,” Kim said.

According the commission’s publications on Illinois legal deserts, 72 counties added five or fewer new attorneys in the last four years—with 33 counties registering none. The Illinois Bar Association developed summer clerkships to fill gaps, plus programs for new lawyers to be placed in rural districts with the most need.

As for his specific vision for the commission, Kim doesn’t anticipate a sea change, but admits he brings a unique perspective as a corporate lawyer and person of color representing McLean County.

“That’s a point of pride,” said Kim. “I’ve been a central Illinois lawyer my entire career, both in private practice and in the in-house setting. Having that central Illinois or downstate voice for the profession is an important one. And I’m very committed to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, and how that manifests throughout the legal profession.”

While chair, Kim plans to bring the commission's courthouse professionalism training to McLean County's 11th Judicial Circuit courts for the first time.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.