Professionalism Spotlight: Nikki Ticknor, Deputy Court Administrator, 17th Judicial Circuit

nicole ticknor

Our Professionalism Spotlight series highlights Illinois legal professionals who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.

These lawyers, paralegals, court clerks, legal assistants, trial court administrators, law school personnel, and other legal and court professionals are essential in the delivery of equitable, efficient, and effective justice in Illinois.

In this Professionalism Spotlight, we spoke to Nicole “Nikki” Ticknor, who serves as the Deputy Court Administrator and Family Violence Coordinated Council Coordinator in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court.

Nikki received the 2023 Jeffrey D. Colman Access to Justice Award from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice for her work to improve access to the court system for self-represented, limited English proficient, disabled, or otherwise vulnerable litigants.

What led you to your current role?

I have worked in the field of gender-based violence since 2005 when I started as an intern at our local domestic violence shelter. After college, I began my career as a shelter advocate and later as a legal advocate, which really sparked my interest in and love for the legal system.

At the same time, I realized I did not have the training necessary to address the mental health and trauma recovery needs of survivors, so I went to graduate school, obtained my degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and became a Licensed Professional Counselor.

While in grad school, I took a break from advocacy work and became a probation officer and later a supervisor for our probation department. I focused exclusively on the supervision of domestic violence offenders. This gave me the opportunity to understand the criminal side of the justice system and the importance of treating offenders with dignity and respect.

I spent a bit of time in private practice as a therapist and then came back to the courts to serve as a project manager for our Domestic Violence Coordinated Court. This role has grown into a Deputy Court Administrator and has allowed me to provide administrative support for our DV [Domestic Violence] and Family Courts while promoting accessibility, procedural fairness, and a trauma-informed court environment.

While in college and grad school, I would have never thought in a million years I would have ended up in a court management role, but I absolutely love it. It is the perfect way to incorporate my experience working with victims and offenders, my love for the legal system, and my therapist skills to promote a trauma-informed environment.

How have you have prioritized making the justice system more accessible for court users in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court?

We have worked to develop resources geared at helping court users understand the court process in a variety of formats including videos and podcasts.

We have implemented policies and procedures that allow for hybrid court proceedings and for any litigant to file a petition for a protective order and attend the subsequent emergency hearing remotely.

We hold trainings for court staff and the judiciary focused on cultural competence and serving those from underserved populations, such as litigants with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

What are some of the biggest challenges for survivors of domestic violence in the court system?

The amount of fear and anxiety that survivors experience when seeking assistance from the court system cannot be overstated. Because of this, it is important that we provide court users with a safe and trauma-informed response.

Additionally, we are tasked with building trust among a population that has often had poor interactions with the justice system. If we want survivors to engage and participate in the justice system, whether it be through civil matters or as witnesses in criminal cases, we need to improve trust and confidence in the system itself.

How do you support court staff who are exposed to what can be traumatic family and domestic violence cases?

Our Court Administration team has worked hard to promote and support an environment that allows staff to process the stress of working in the court system and encourage discussion around wellness and secondary trauma.

For example, this past summer we implemented a “decompression station” every Friday afternoon at the end of the workday where staff came together to decompress through fun activities and discussion about non-work-related topics.

Our message to staff was, “The work you do has value and can be really hard and heavy. Take some time to decompress and get ready for the weekend so you can return home as your best self.”

I try to remind my staff that being immersed in the court system and interacting with these hard cases every day can impact our perception of reality—we see a small percentage of the population 100% of the time and it can be hard to remember there is also a lot of good in the world.

Similarly, when you have staff who are committed to the mission and the work it can often feel like there is always more to do, but we need to stop and celebrate the changes we are making.

Many people enter the legal system at some of the worst times of their lives. How do you maintain civility and professionalism in these tense situations?

This is where my therapist training comes in handy. I have always told myself that when someone has what feels like an angry or extreme reaction it likely has very little to do with me and is not personal. Often people just want to be heard.

Most people we interact with are in crisis and have experienced trauma—they are usually not at the courthouse for a happy reason. It is normal for them to feel frustrated and angry.

I know that for many people, anger is a safe emotion and a defense mechanism, and it has historically helped them meet their needs. Giving people the space to feel heard, asking what they need, and treating them with dignity and respect goes a long way in tense situations.

How do you care for your mental health and well-being?

I try to ground myself in why this work is important to me and remind myself that I am one part of a very big and complicated system. Staying aware of what my role in this system is can help with combating the feeling that everything has to be fixed by one person and right away.

In my free time, I read a lot and I try to stay away from media that focus on work subject matter. It’s important to allow myself a break.

I believe strongly that everyone can benefit from therapy and should go to therapy if they can, even if it’s just to have an objective listener to process with.

Being a mom to two small boys also helps ground me. They often provide moments of levity and remind me of the simple joy that can exist in everyday moments.

Our Professionalism Spotlight recognizes legal professionals throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews here.

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