The data indicates we are emerging from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of the difficulties wrought by this experience are certainly still with us. Notwithstanding (and often prompted by) these difficulties, new and innovative ideas for increasing access and understanding of our court system have emerged. One of these is Illinois Court Help – a free, personalized information service offered by the Illinois Courts and staffed by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Access to Justice Division.
With the support of Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and the Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court, Illinois Court Help was successfully launched on Monday, May 17, 2021. How it works is pretty simple. Individuals with questions about the Illinois Courts can call or text (833) 411-1121 to connect with a trained court guide who can provide up-to-date information about local courts and answers to specific questions about court processes.
Illinois Court Help offers information on all Illinois Courts – Circuit, Appellate and Supreme Court – to all court users. The need for this service has never been greater. While Illinois Court Help is available to anyone needing court information, it is especially beneficial for the growing number of people who cannot afford a lawyer and must represent themselves in court. The need became more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic because people could not, in many cases, visit the courthouse for court resources and information. At the same time, an increased number of people are facing serious and urgent legal issues, including eviction, consumer debt, and domestic violence resultant from, or worsened by, the pandemic.
Illinois Court Help guides work to enhance these individuals' understanding of court processes, like how to e-file court documents and how to appear in court by phone or video which can be very confusing and stressful for someone who has never participated in these processes. Illinois Court Help guides can also answer questions about court forms or provide information on logistical needs such as the availability of childcare in a particular courthouse. And while the focus may be self-represented litigants, attorneys are also welcomed and encouraged to use this resource if they have similar questions.
It is important to note that Illinois Court Help guides will not provide legal advice; however, the guides will help connect people needing legal help to legal assistance and community resources.
The increasing number of people representing themselves in civil cases – estimated to be three out of every five civil litigants nationally – leads to confusion and delays for everyone involved in our court system. By connecting people to accurate information, court forms written in plain language, and local resources, Illinois Court Help aims to help cases run more smoothly and efficiently. This new service provides a central "hub" and will supplement the work of those local courts that have personnel to assist individuals representing themselves.
Initial hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, with expanded hours to come over the next few months as staff continue to roll out and expand availability for this important initiative.
Visit ILCourthelp.gov to find more information.