April 19, 2019
In response to the growing number of cases involving litigants who cannot afford to hire an attorney at the appellate level, the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts Access to Justice Division (AOIC) and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (Commission) recently launched two initiatives to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) in civil appeals.
First, the AOIC’s Appellate Resource Program, in conjunction with the First District Appellate Clerk's Office, launched a four month pilot project on March 1st to proactively reach out to SRLs who filed a civil appeal in the First Appellate District. The goals of this pilot project are to conduct follow-up with each litigant to better understand questions they have about the civil appellate process, to more effectively recognize what barriers appellants have in completing their appeal, and to obtain more specific data on outcomes. This data will then be used to better inform the program’s stakeholders about these issues and to create additional self-help materials for SRLs.
Under this program, upon filing a notice of appeal, appellants are sent a letter that provides information about deadlines and resources they may wish to consult to learn more about the civil appellate process. Program staff then follow-up within a few days to conduct individual outreach to the litigant via email, phone or in hard copy form. Appellants are reminded of deadlines per Illinois Supreme Court Rules, directed to available resources that may be of assistance, and provided with statewide standardized forms to help them in completing their appeal. Litigants are welcome to ask informational questions of our staff and are encouraged to contact an attorney should they need legal advice (a link to the Chicago Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service is provided to all appellants).
Program staff then follow-up with the appellant throughout the trajectory of the appeal and monitor any missed deadlines. We hope to receive substantive feedback from litigants about their experience with the appellate process and, if applicable, any reasons why an appeal was not completed. In the coming months, the AOIC will examine the feasibility and practicality of implementing this initiative statewide.
In addition, the AOIC recently launched a dedicated self-help page on the Illinois Courts' website that is devoted to providing resources for civil legal issues. The page promotes resources available to assist SRLs in their appeal, which includes materials developed by the AOIC as well as by other organizations, such as the Appellate Lawyers Association. It features a comprehensive "Frequently Asked Questions" guide, a simplified overview of an appeal from a final judgment, e-filing manuals for civil appeals, and many links to resources throughout the state to help litigants understand an appeal and navigate the required steps. If your program or organization has civil appellate resources that you would like listed on the AOIC's self-help page, please contact the Appellate Resource Program at 312-793-6153 or email AppellateSelfHelp@illinoiscourts.gov.
The Commission and AOIC remain committed to bringing access to justice to SRLs and underserved populations across Illinois. The Appellate Resource Program will continue to work on additional programs and services to assist the public with the civil appellate process, and we look forward to updating you on new initiatives as they are instituted.