The courthouse is not just a building, it is a critical component of the legal system and a vital public service. It serves as a central hub for the administration of justice in communities and plays a vital role in safeguarding the rights of individuals.
Beyond its bricks and mortar, a courthouse is a place where people can receive legal assistance, resolve disputes, and access justice. However, access to these services can be impeded if they are not administered civilly, effectively, and professionally.
Our sister organization, the Access to Justice Division of the Illinois Courts, has joined us since 2019 to expand the training’s content and purpose.
Walking in the shoes of court patrons
The Courthouse Professionalism Training brings together people from every segment of the courthouse working community – a feat we hear is not done often – including judges, attorneys, courthouse security personnel, public defenders, state’s attorneys, clerks, court reporters, and other stakeholders involved in the administration of justice.
Training leaders then ask participants to navigate the courthouse experience through the lens of courthouse patrons for an afternoon. Participants consider whether their daily actions and interactions with patrons are supporting or standing in the way of patrons accessing our justice system, whether they are self-represented litigants, witnesses, victims, family members, or otherwise.
The goal is for those who work in and around the courthouse to understand and appreciate the perspective of court patrons, so they can provide excellent service to all visitors.
Professionalism and access to justice
The importance of professionalism cannot be overstated in the courthouse. All staff, including judges, lawyers, clerks, and court security must always conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner. This includes upholding the principles of impartiality, integrity, and respect for the rule of law.
Courthouse staff must be well-informed, friendly, and helpful, and able to respond to inquiries in a timely and respectful manner. They should also provide visitors with clear and accurate information, including directions, hours of operation, and the procedures for accessing court services.
Soft skills, including strong listening skills, are essential in providing responsive service. This means being attentive to court patrons, understanding their needs and concerns, and responding in a manner that is respectful and empathetic, especially in light of the highly stressful environment of the courthouse.
Overall, listening skills are critical in resolving disputes, mediating conflicts, and providing legal services in a fair and impartial manner.
Developing professionalism skills
Delivering the services of the courthouse with civility and professionalism is essential for building public trust in the justice system. During the Courthouse Professionalism Training, participants from all sectors of the courthouse working community talk about the systematic challenges they face in completing their daily tasks, interacting with the public, and serving as the face of the justice system. Many are surprised by the challenges that people from other areas of the courthouse community face and frequently offer solutions and support.
Our team then takes the challenges and perspectives discussed and delivers strategies to improve the courthouse patrons’ experience and strengthen courthouse professionalism.
Professionalism also means that courthouse staff must be knowledgeable about the court’s procedures and processes and able to explain them to the public clearly and concisely.
Another unique part of the training is led by the Access to Justice Division of the Illinois Courts, which helps participants differentiate between what is considered legal information or legal advice, engaging them through scenarios and reviewing the Court handout What Information Can I Provide to Court Patrons?
The Commission looks forward to continuing to facilitate this training throughout the Land of Lincoln. We hope it continues to support the work of our courts in delivering effective justice and building the public’s confidence in the legal system.
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about the program or bring it to your local courthouse.
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