The Illinois Supreme Court announced this week amendments to Rule 299 that will double compensation for an attorney appointed by a court in Illinois to represent an indigent party.
The amended Rule raises attorney compensation to $150 per hour, up from its previous minimum of $75 per hour. Attorneys will also receive $150 per hour “for time reasonably expended out of court” (up from its previous minimum of $50 per hour) and maximum compensation for representing an indigent defendant of $10,000 (up from its previous maximum of $5,000).
The amendments are effective on Jan. 1, 2024. Rule 299 was last updated in 2006.
Commitment to ‘improving access to justice for all’
The Illinois Judicial Branch has long been dedicated to expanding and promoting affordable representation, including pro bono services, for court users.
This commitment to “ensuring accessible justice and equal protection under the law through programs and services that meet current and changing needs,” is outlined as Strategic Goal 1 in its 2022-2025 Strategic Agenda. Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis noted that this is especially true for indigent parties.
“This amendment will help improve representation in these important cases,” she said in a press release.
The Legal Services Corporation estimates that of all civil legal problems faced by low-income Americans, “92% do not get any or enough legal assistance.” Locally, 91% of people who used Illinois Legal Aid Online’s free Get Legal Help tool in fiscal year 2023 fell below 300% of the federal poverty line.
Supporting parents in child protection/termination cases
The amendments to Rule 299, which were proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Parent Representation, are particularly important for ensuring fair compensation in child protection/termination cases, according to First District Appellate Court Justice Mary Mikva and Fourth District Appellate Court Justice Kathryn Zenoff, who served on the Committee.
“We have been working for several years to improve the quality of representation for parents in these important and difficult cases and with the help and input of a statewide/AOIC-supported Parent Representation Workgroup we have developed training for these attorneys and sought these amendments,” they said in the press release, noting that they are pleased that rates of compensation will be regularly reviewed.
Making justice tangible for low-income Americans
While access to justice can seem like an intangible dream for many low-income Americans, the Illinois Judicial Conference (IJC) has been examining the work of the courts and proposing improvements to improve access to services.
Earlier this year, as part of its Strategic Agenda, the Illinois Supreme Court announced the creation of the IJC’s Criminal Indigent Defense Task Force to “develop recommendations for a permanent, sustainable, and equitable system to ensure that everyone entitled to a public defender gets one, and every public defender has the support needed to provide effective assistance of counsel.”
Moreover, through the work of its Commission on Access to Justice and Access to Justice Division, the Illinois Supreme Court is working to improve justice systems to be more accessible for vulnerable litigants, including those who are low-income, limited English proficient, and self-represented.
Some of its initiatives include Illinois Court Help (a free service that connects people to the information they need to go to court), grants to help local courthouses improve services, statewide standardized forms, language access support and an interpreter certification program, and a Court Navigator Network focused on developing resources and programming to assist self-represented litigants.
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