July 23, 2018
Dear Justice Corner:
I have court calls with many self-represented litigants who ask my clerk a lot of questions. What assistance or direction can my clerk give to SRLs (especially about e-filing)? How can I get training for my clerk about helping SRLs?
Dear Judge Helpclerkshelpsrls:
In April 2015, the Supreme Court adopted the Illinois Supreme Court Policy on Assistance to Court Patrons by Circuit Clerks, Court Staff, Law Librarians, and Court Volunteers (known as the Safe Harbor Policy) to help answer this very question. Section C of the policy goes through prohibited activities (including giving legal advice) and Section D lists the permitted services, which is quite expansive.
Clerks and other court staff may provide information about court rules, court terminology, and procedures (Section (d)(1) of the policy). Many SRL questions are related to those three things. We often hear SRLs ask "What do I do next?" They usually want to know the next step in the process, which can be answered by clerks. The policy also allows clerks and other court staff to offer educational classes and informational materials (Section (d)(5)). So if your clerk hears repeated questions from SRLs, it might be worth developing some helpful handouts.
Telling SRLs about e-filing and the exemption from e-filing is merely informing them of Supreme Court Rule 9. In January 2016, the Supreme Court indicated that the courts must provide designated space, necessary equipment, and technical support for SRLs trying to e-file (M.R. 18368). Generally speaking, everything that is done in the e-filing system is technical support of the system and the process of getting information to the court. The one tricky thing for SRLs is what case category, case type, and filing code to select. There is no way for an SRL to know those. How the clerk codes documents is allowable information and not legal advice.
Clerks and other court staff can also inform court patrons of legal resources and referrals (Section (d)(2)). Make sure that you and your clerks know what pro bono, low-cost, limited scope, legal aid, internet-based resources, or other similar programs are in your area. It is also helpful to know about your court's law library and/or self-help center to refer SRLs there for more assistance. Clerks can always refer to www.illinoislegalaid.org or to statewide standardized forms at http://illinoiscourts.gov/Forms/approved/default.asp.
The Access to Justice Commission and AOIC Civil Justice Division provides training to clerks and other court staff on a variety of topics and can do so on the Safe Harbor Policy and on the user-end of e-filing. We can also help identify available resources, develop handouts, and create any needed resources for state-wide use, or templates that courts can amend with pertinent local information.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with requests for training, material development, or to request copies of the Safe Harbor Policy and other related resources. As always, please email us your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Judge Jo Beth Weber, Jefferson County
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford