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Illinois Courts response to COVID-19

Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

An Update from Chief Justice Burke and Guest Column from Chicago Bar Foundation Executive Director Bob Glaves

6/23/2020

June 23, 2020

You may recall that, in my first Illinois Courts Connect column in October 2019, I explained that it was my intention to use this space to highlight the events and happenings of the court and to introduce you to some of the people making a difference in the administration of justice here in Cook County and throughout the State. One such person is Bob Glaves.

Bob has been the Executive Director of The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) since October 1999. As Executive Director, Bob has been responsible for leading and overseeing the CBF's efforts to bring Chicago's legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and to make the legal system more fair and more efficient for everyone. Under Bob's leadership, the CBF has played an important role in launching a number of groundbreaking access-to-justice initiatives.

I invited Bob to share some thoughts with you in this newsletter. However, before I turn the column over to him, I would first like to acknowledge the work that has been done by the judges, court staff, attorneys and justice stakeholders throughout the State over the last several months. In every corner of this State, our courts and justice partners have been meeting the challenges that were unexpectedly thrust upon us because of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. We have had to re-invent ourselves to make it possible to fulfill our constitutional mandate to provide the citizens of this State access to justice, while still maintaining the health and safety of all those who serve and are served. In the process, some milestones have been reached. In April, the Supreme Court held its first-ever virtual Bar Admissions Ceremony. At that event, 333 new attorneys took the Illinois Attorney's Oath, thereby joining the ranks of the Illinois bar. And, in May, for the first time ever, the Illinois Supreme Court held oral arguments remotely.

On behalf of myself and my colleagues on the Supreme Court, I wish to extend our deep appreciation and thanks to each and every member of the judicial system, as well as Director Meis and the entire staff of our administrative offices, who have worked so diligently to make these events possible and to keep our courts operational. We thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. It is our hope that, as restrictions continue to be lifted, more courtrooms will re-open and more person-to-person access will be available in accord with our Reopening the Courts Guidelines.

Finally, in the April Illinois Courts Connect newsletter, I shared with you my opening remarks that were delivered on March 3rd and 4th of this year, when we appeared before the State Senate and House to present the Judicial Branch Appropriation Request for Fiscal Year 2021. It is now my pleasure to announce that Governor Pritzker has signed into law the budget which was passed by the Illinois Legislature which fully funds our budget request for the Judicial Branch FY2021. I am extremely grateful to Governor Pritzker and the Legislature, particularly the Senate and House Budget Committees, for their response to the Court's budget request. With this increased level of funding, the judiciary will have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional duties to provide equal access to justice, prompt and fair adjudication of legal proceedings, and constitutional assurances of due process while preserving public safety. Thank you!


And now, CBF Executive Director Bob Glaves:

The Path to a Better Future for the Courts, the Legal Profession, and the Public

October 2019 seems like a lifetime ago. Who could have predicted the country, our state, and our justice system would face unprecedented challenges just six months later?

When it comes to the courts, access to justice, and the direction of our legal profession, however, we already knew back then that we were falling far short of what was necessary. The number of cases being filed in the courts had dropped significantly while more people than ever were coming to court without lawyers. We also knew the courts were behind the times in using technology and process improvement to make the system more efficient and accessible.

It also was evident that the legal market was not working well for large segments of the public it was designed to serve. Most people did not even recognize they had a legal problem, and when they did, they did not know how or where to find affordable legal help. Lawyers trying to serve the consumer legal market increasingly were struggling as well. Like the courts, most of our profession was well behind the times in using technology and process improvement to connect to potential clients and deliver services more efficiently and affordably.

To add to the challenge, these two trends in the courts and legal profession were reinforcing each other. Outdated and overly complex court processes created built-in inefficiencies that made it much harder for lawyers to offer affordable and accessible services. And the failure of our profession to keep up with the times was driving up the number of people who were failing to recognize legal problems, attempting to resolve things on their own, or coming to court without lawyers even though the vast majority would prefer to have representation.

And then came the pandemic, the crushing economic recession that followed, and the overdue reckoning with the racial inequalities in our society and justice system that recent events have laid bare. These three interrelated crises have only exacerbated the unsustainable trends noted above and added to the urgency for reform.

But first, back to October, 2019. Two significant announcements set the stage for the courts and the legal profession to tackle necessary reforms with the urgency the current times demanded. First, on October 2nd the Illinois Supreme Court formally unveiled a new, forward-thinking Strategic Agenda for the Illinois Judicial Branch developed by the Illinois Judicial Conference.

The Strategic Agenda is a comprehensive blueprint for achieving the Supreme Court's vision of a justice system that is "trusted and open to all by being fair, innovative, diverse, and responsive to changing needs." As then-Chief Justice Karmeier eloquently stated in the introduction to the Strategic Agenda:

"If the courts are to continue to make good on the promise of equal justice under law in this new and challenging environment, we must be proactive. Waiting for problems to develop and then responding will no longer do. Rather, it is critical that we anticipate the difficulties ahead and prepare for them in a reasonable and coordinated way…"

The Court's plan already is making an impact amidst the pandemic, laying the groundwork for the necessary shift to a virtual court environment and important new Rule and policy changes on remote hearings and appearances, among other advances.

On a parallel and complementary path, on October 7th the Chicago Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Foundation kicked off the CBA/CBF Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law. The Task Force brings together a broad group of distinguished local and national stakeholders to tackle the market failure in the consumer legal market, which is untenable for all involved — lawyers, the public, and the courts.

A market failure of this magnitude would normally be met with a wave of innovation and new services under classic economic theory. However, our antiquated Rules of Professional Conduct governing the business of law are artificially restraining market forces from fixing the problem in the market for legal services, to everyone's detriment. Other professions are far ahead of us in modernizing their business practices and incorporating technology.

Guided by a recent resolution from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Court's Regulatory Objectives and Strategic Agenda, the Task Force is putting the final touches on a comprehensive report and recommendations to modernize the Rules of Professional Conduct to make the legal market work better for everyone. The report is the product of nine months of hard work by dozens of dedicated volunteers working on five committees. The next step is to publish the report and recommendations, allowing for public comment on the Task Force web page in early July.

The Task Force believes the recommended changes will make for a better and more sustainable legal profession, a better and more accessible justice system, and improved access to legal help for the consumer and small business markets. We encourage members of the bench, bar, and public to offer constructive and concrete feedback on the various proposals in July and early August. People will have the opportunity to submit feedback in writing or "in-person" through a Zoom town hall-style meeting.

A healthy legal profession and justice that is truly accessible to the public are not opposing concepts; they are inextricably tied together. The Task Force's recommendations flow from that overarching principle and, in tandem with the Court's broader Strategic Agenda, can chart a better and more sustainable path for the future.

As a corporate executive recently put it in Crain's Chicago Business: "The goal is not to return to a "normal" that wasn't working for far too many. The goal should be to imagine, and create, a new normal that is better, fairer and more just for everyone. There is no going back."