Halle Cox, Director of the Kane County Law Library & Self Help Legal Center, 16th Judicial Circuit
What now seems like a lifetime ago, in 2017, a request for proposals for a new grant program developed by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice caught my eye. A few Illinois judicial circuits would be awarded monetary grants to support the work of a designated Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator. Hmmm…. as the Director of the Kane County Law Library & Self Help Legal Center, I already saw myself, and all law librarians, as self-represented litigant advocates – so, with the support of my then Chief Judge Susan Boles, apply I did!
I was thrilled when Chief Judge Boles shared the letter with me from Justice Mary K. Rochford that not only had I been designated the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, but our circuit had been awarded $10,000 to put toward assisting our self-represented litigants.
Four years later, the now-named Court Navigator Network (Network) is blossoming, and there are Court Navigators in nearly all of the 24 judicial circuits. I am proud to say I am still a part of this group comprised of law librarians, court administrators, Illinois JusticeCorps Fellows, circuit clerks, administrative assistants, and staff attorneys, all dedicated to helping our public have a better court experience.
Network members have amazing training opportunities on topics such as:
- developing plain language forms and instructions
- creating and pushing out informational public relations pieces
- how to recognize various mental health issues and the best avenues of communication with individuals exhibiting such
- unconscious bias
- informed trauma; and
- simulations on a day in the life of someone living on the brink of poverty.
Thanks to these trainings, many of us have been able to take what we learn and assimilate the knowledge into our daily court lives, share what we have learned with others in our circuit, and create better contacts and communication with court goers.
Aside from the Network members and the phenomenal breadth of experience and knowledge they bring with them, one of the most helpful and rewarding things about the Network is the creation and sharing of best practices throughout the State of Illinois. Even if programs or ideas would not ideally fit in the Sixteenth Circuit, I always learn something and can tweak what someone else has done to better meet the needs of our particular court patrons. Through a shared drive, members are able to see and capture documents, public relations pieces, and policies other members have created. These shared resources not only keep others from having to reinvent the wheel, but they help establish a unified message across circuits and thus across the state.
It is rewarding to see the progress all the circuits are making in supporting their self-represented population, thanks in large part not only to the Network itself but correlating grant funds that some jurisdictions apply for. Programs such as expedited, dedicated self-represented litigant family court calls and online dispute resolution programs are some of the larger projects. Online court help chat services, Lawyer in the Library partnerships with local libraries, and iPad purchases to help ensure Zoom court access are just a few of the other innovative programs that have been instituted.
What the members of the Network throughout the state are creating and executing to support the needs of the self-represented litigants in their circuits is inspiring. What is even more amazing to witness though, is how this support is enhanced two-fold in the public’s returning trust in the court system, how much more effectively and efficiently courtrooms are running, and how staff and court-goers are interacting on a much more positive level.
If you are interested in joining the Network now, email Jill Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in applying for SRL Coordinator grant funds for a specific project, the next grant application cycle will be in summer 2022.