Last week, Illinois Courts launched Illinois Court Help, a personalized information service that connects courthouse patrons, lawyers, and the public with the resources and information they need to go to court in Illinois.
“Illinois Court Help really is a gamechanger for people who, due to economic hardship, must represent themselves in court and have had access to in-person assistance restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said in a press release. “This easy-to-use service closes the information gap and helps people go to court with more confidence.”
We spoke with Lisa Colpoys, Supervising Senior Program Manager for Illinois Court Help, about why Illinois Courts launched this personalized service, what it means for self-represented litigants, and how things may change after COVID-19.
What is Illinois Court Help?
Illinois Court Help—developed by the Illinois Courts—is a free, personalized service that connects people to the information they need to go to court. People can call or text 833.411.1121 to connect with a trained court guide who can provide specific answers to questions about the court process, like how to e-file court documents and how to appear in court by phone or video.
This personalized one-on-one support is a game-changer for people who must represent themselves in court because of economic hardship. Illinois Court Help will guide people through the court process, which can be very confusing and stressful if you don’t have a lawyer. And because this service is offered by the Illinois Courts, people can feel confident they are getting up-to-date, accurate information.
Can lawyers use the service?
Lawyers can use the service too. Our trained guides will help them easily access the information they need about courts they are not familiar with.
Why was Illinois Court Help developed?
The idea for Illinois Court Help was developed by Chief Justice Anne Burke in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented many people from going to courthouses and libraries where resources and help are offered. Lawyers and other court users also experienced challenges in finding out about the latest remote court procedures and practices.
However, it’s clear the need for this information service goes well beyond the pandemic. Here in Illinois, half of all family law cases and 56% of domestic violence cases had at least one person representing themselves in 2020. At the same time, less than a quarter of Illinois courts have dedicated self-help staff to assist people representing themselves.
There is a big demand statewide for more resources to help people who can’t afford a lawyer. While every circuit court in the state has clerk staff to assist people, most are simply overburdened with requests for help. That’s why Illinois Court Help is so important. This service provides help statewide—so no matter where a person lives, they have access to the same, accurate, and up-to-date information.
Why do you think we have seen a rise in self-represented litigants?
Many people are unable to afford the cost of an attorney. And legal aid organizations simply don’t have the resources to serve everyone who needs help.
I think post-pandemic we will continue to see an influx of self-represented litigants. COVID-19 has led to a tsunami of civil legal issues such as eviction, medical debt, and domestic violence, and low-income communities have been hit the hardest.
Do other states have similar programs?
Some other states and local courts within Illinois have programs to assist self-represented court users, like courthouse-based self-help centers, JusticeCorps, and hotlines. The pandemic has caused some of them to shift to delivering services remotely, using various technology tools like Zoom and webchat.
We are not aware of any others that have deployed a statewide, multi-channel customer support platform for court users, where members of the public and legal professionals can call, text, chat, or email to get court information and answers from specially trained court guides.
We are learning best practices from the states and local Illinois courts that are using some of these communication channels, like hotlines and webchat.
How will Illinois Court Help’s services change as courts reopen?
Providing the first statewide customer support service for Illinois Courts is exciting because it is needed by so many people, especially as courts start to open back up and cases resume. Courts and Circuit Clerks will be inundated with questions and this service will support and supplement existing court services.
In the coming months, Illinois Court Help will expand its services by adding webchat and email as options for people to connect with a trained court guide, in addition to calling or texting.
Illinois Court Help will be available to people when and where they need it. Our goal is that this service will help more people have positive experiences with the courts.
To learn more about Illinois Court Help, visit www.ilcourthelp.gov.
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