By Lisa Colpoys, Supervising Senior Program Manager, Illinois Court Help
The Illinois Court Help program was created to provide court users throughout the state with easy access to trained court guides who answer questions about court processes, forms, and going to court. The court guides also direct people to appropriate legal and community resources. The service opened on May 17, 2021 and began accepting phone calls and text messages to its toll-free number, 833-411-1121. The phone hotline was initially open between 10am – 2pm.
After six weeks of operation, on July 1, 2021, the service expanded by opening email as a communication option. Visitors to ilcourthelp.gov can now complete a short web form to ask a question at any time of day. Also on July 1, the Spanish language version of the website launched, and the hours of operation for the telephone hotline were expanded to 9am – 2pm. Text and email messages are answered between 9am – 5pm.
Illinois Court Help was initially staffed by two full-time court guides and a Supervising Senior Program Manager who oversees the program. To get the program up and running, the remaining 8 members of the AOIC Access to Justice Division were trained as court guides, and each contributed 4 hours per week staffing the service. In August, two more full-time court guides were hired to replace temporary ATJ Division members. As of September 1, 2021, Illinois Court Help is staffed by 4 full-time court guides, 4 ATJ Division members who together serve 10 hours per week, and the Supervising Senior Program Manager. During peak hours for the phone hotline there are 4 – 5 guides answering calls, text messages, and email.
Results from the first 4 months, from May 17, 2021 through September 17, 2021 demonstrate both the need for Illinois Court Help’s services and its initial success in helping people navigate the court system. The following data from Illinois Court Help’s online platform provides a snapshot of the impact the service is having.
Who contacts Illinois Court Help?
Between May and September, court guides helped 1987 unique court users, some of them multiple times. An interaction with a court user can be just a single phone call that lasts a few minutes, or it may be several phone calls, text messages, and emails spanning days or weeks until the user’s questions are answered.
Court users from 90 of 102 Illinois counties have connected with Illinois Court Help. Approximately 85% of people who contact Illinois Court Help are self-represented litigants. The remaining users include friends and family of a person with a court issue, represented court users, lawyers and law office staff, court staff, and members of the general public.
A court user who contacted Illinois Court Help several times in August recently sent this message – “I would like to thank you all for the help that you have given to me through my divorce process. It was granted today and I don't think I could have done it without your help. I'm so grateful there was help when I needed it most.”
How do people contact Illinois Court Help?
Two-thirds of people contact Illinois Court Help by phone, and the average length of calls is 9 minutes. The other one-third of people who connect are split equally between text message and email. Usage has increased steadily each month. In August 2021, court guides fielded over 900 interactions with court users. On an average day, court guides will answer over 50 phone calls. The Illinois Court Help website has been visited nearly 10,000 times by 7,500 people.
Why do people contact Illinois Court Help?
Over 82% of people who contact Illinois Court Help have a question or issue related to the Circuit Court and 3% have questions about the Appellate or Supreme Court. Of all users, 82% ask questions about civil cases, 5% ask about criminal cases, 3% about traffic cases, 2.5% about other topics, and 7% ask questions of an unknown origin.
The most popular reason why people contact Illinois Court Help is because they have a question or issue related to court processes, court forms, and filing and e-filing documents. Many people are also seeking legal assistance and substantive legal information. The case types that are most prevalent include domestic relations, small claims, and housing/eviction. Surprisingly, nearly 10% of people contacting the service have questions related to probate cases.
As Illinois Court Help continues to grow and evolve, there are plans to add more services. In the future, web chat will be added as an option so that users can chat in real time from our website, or maybe even another entity’s website, such as the website for the Circuit Clerk. We will also develop the ilcourthelp.gov website to include self-help content so users can search for answers before they call, text, or chat with a court guide.