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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

ISBA surveys attorneys about remote appearances


By Marisa Wiesman, Deputy Director of Strategic Planning, AOIC Access to Justice & Strategic Planning Division

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 45 governing remote appearances in circuit courts was amended effective January 1, 2023, and required circuits to adopt local remote appearance rules within 90 days. (All of the local rules are available on the Illinois Courts website here.) In most circuits, this means that the local rules have just celebrated their first birthday, creating a natural opportunity for courts to reflect on their remote appearance rules and practices.

While remote appearances are not appropriate for every case or proceeding type, a recent survey indicates that there are simple steps that courts can take to improve the effectiveness of remote proceedings when they are appropriate. In late 2023, the Illinois State Bar Association’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee surveyed attorneys about their experience with remote appearances in Illinois state courts. The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with the ISBA’s Presidential Initiative on Access to Legal Services and drafted in partnership with the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts (AOIC) Access to Justice Division, included questions about familiarity with local remote appearance rules, conformity of local practices to the rules, the ease of accessing remote appearance information, and steps that courts can take to improve the effectiveness of remote appearances. The survey generated 579 responses, representing practices in all 102 Illinois counties.

The survey results offer four high-level takeaways:

  1. Attorneys overwhelmingly favor allowing remote appearances for routine, non-evidentiary matters. Attorneys appreciate the efficiency of remote appearances and the opportunity to save time and costs for clients. Feedback is mixed on the use of remote appearance for testimonial, evidentiary, and contested proceedings.
  2. Remote appearance practices are inconsistent, and this presents significant challenges for attorneys. Attorneys report continued challenges determining when they are permitted to appear remotely and locating Zoom information. They report inconsistent practices from county to county, as well as from courtroom to courtroom within a county. The time spent resolving questions about remote appearances reduces their efficiency, and results in increased calls to clerks’ offices and judges’ chambers.
  3. Technology issues persist and make remote appearances less productive. Technology has improved since the early days of remote appearances, but challenges remain. In particular, attorneys report that some courtrooms are not well equipped for hybrid proceedings, making it difficult for remote attendees to hear and see participants (including the judge) who are present in the courtroom, and vice versa.
  4. Many judges across the state are holding effective remote proceedings because of good courtroom management. Attorneys report that remote proceedings are most effective when the judge limits the number of cases set at the same time or utilizes staggered court calls; calls agreed or uncontested matters first and notifies case participants of the order in which cases will be called; has clear practices for submitting and returning orders; and utilizes the tools available in Zoom. Attorneys shared complaints about remote proceedings (such as fewer opportunities to observe other attorneys and to communicate with opposing counsel or clients), but noted these issues are minimized where judges limit the use of Zoom waiting rooms and utilize breakout rooms.

There is a real incentive for courts to make remote appearances as effective as possible. The recently released results of the First Judicial Circuit Remote Appearance Pilot Program highlight the impact of remote proceedings. Over the course of the pilot program, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid lawyers appeared remotely for 467 proceedings in the First Judicial Circuit, saving the agency 633.5 hours of time spent traveling to various courthouses and 18,432 miles of driving, resulting in cost savings of $11,626.83.

The Illinois Courts website includes several public-facing remote appearance resources that courts can share to help court users prepare to attend court remotely, including a three-minute video available in both English and Spanish. The AOIC’s Access to Justice Division is available to help circuits review and enhance their local remote appearance rules.