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Chief’s Column: Supreme Court Executive Committee on the Practice of Law


By Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis, Illinois Supreme Court

In its 2020 report, the Self-Representation Litigation Network maintained that the rise of the self-represented litigant (SRL) has created an “unprecedented disruption in the practice of law and the management of courts.” Trial courts across the country have found consistently that 75% or more of all civil cases have at least one self-represented litigant. Extrapolations from those statistics suggest that approximately 1 out of 10 people in the United States is involved in newly filed cases each year, and that 3 out of 5 litigants in civil cases do not have a lawyer.

Illinois is not an outlier in that regard. And while the number of SRLs here continues to grow, there has been a corresponding and troubling drop in new civil cases. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts has documented a 40% decrease in civil filings from case levels before the Covid-19 pandemic. Simply put, where are the plaintiffs? People in our state continue to have potentially meritorious legal claims, but they have begun to look away from the judicial system to resolve them, as their trust and confidence in the bench and bar has eroded.

The Illinois Supreme Court has long been at the vanguard of creative solutions to these vexing problems. The Court established the Access to Justice Commission in 2012 to “promote, facilitate and enhance equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies for all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.” Despite the invaluable work of the Commission and its supporting Division of our Administrative Office, challenges remain. Last year, the Court launched the Executive Committee on the Practice of Law to broaden our response. Here to explain the aims of the Executive Committee are its Chair, Tim Eaton, and its Vice-Chair, Tim Bertschy.

By Tim Eaton, Chair, and Tim Bertschy, Vice-Chair, Supreme Court Executive Committee on the Practice of Law

In January, the Supreme Court formed the Executive Committee on the Practice of Law. The scope of the Executive Committee is to serve as a clearing house for recommendations made to the court involving the practice of law relating to unmet legal needs in the state. The Executive Committee will consider proposals from the individual regulatory Committees related to unmet legal issues when those proposals are sent to the Executive Committee by the Supreme Court for further consideration. The purpose of the Executive Committee is not to serve as a reviewing board of the Committees’ proposals but is intended to assist the Court where the court desires to have additional input.

There also may be proposals relating to the practice of law and unmet legal needs that do not have a “home” in the six regulatory committees which will be sent to the Executive Committee by the Court for its consideration and recommendations. And the Executive Committee itself may initiate proposals that will be recommended to the Court. The bottom line is the Executive Committee’s charge is to assist the court in addressing unmet legal needs where changes to the practice of law may be necessary.

The Executive Committee consists of 13 members. Seven members were appointed by members of the Supreme Court and one representative of each of the six Committees, Commissions or Boards (Committees) who are involved in the regulation of the practice of law was also appointed by the Court. The Executive Committee members are: Tim Eaton, Chair; Tim Bertschy, Vice-Chair; David Baron; Patricia Bobb; Linda Crane; Wesley Gozia; Melodi Green; Jennifer Howe; John Kim; Patrick Mathis; Larry Rogers; Joseph Torres; and Allison Wood. The following Committees are represented: ARDC, Board of Admissions to the Bar, Commission on Professionalism, Lawyers Trust Fund, MCLE Board, and Professional Responsibility.

The inspiration for the Executive Committee is the Illinois Judicial Conference, which has had remarkable success in addressing issues and recommendations related to our judicial system. The Executive Committee will be staffed by Marisa Wiesman, who is the Deputy Director of Strategic Planning for the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts.