A little legal help can go a long way. That’s the idea behind the network of court-based help desks located throughout Chicago and Cook County that serve tens of thousands of people every year. Lawyers and other legal professionals can quickly triage a court patron’s situation and determine what level of help he or she might need. Depending on the desk and the situation, that help can range from brief advice to forms preparation to a referral for full pro bono representation.
In the spring of 2014, the CBF, in collaboration with the Circuit Court and several pro bono and legal aid organizations, reached a milestone in its long-term efforts to make the court system more user-friendly and accessible by opening the Resource Center for People without Lawyers. Housed on the Concourse Level of the Daley Center, the Resource Center brought several of the existing court-based help desks together in one central location, allowing them to consolidate their intake and screening procedures and to expand their capacity to help more people.
Prior to the opening of the Resource Center, the free legal resources available at court were scattered throughout the Daley Center, making it difficult for people to find the help they needed. In addition, each organization providing assistance was responsible for its own client triage and intake. Many people didn’t know which resource could help them, and the time attorneys spent redirecting people took away from the precious time they had to provide legal advice. Now, Illinois JusticeCorps volunteers staff the Resource Center, assisting with the time-consuming triage of court patrons and directing them to the appropriate legal resources, inside or outside the court. This allows legal aid organizations to focus on their primary goal, delivering the best legal services they can in a short period of time.
The court system was primarily designed by lawyers for lawyers, and yet we see more people than ever before appearing in court without lawyers in civil cases. Now, thanks to the leadership and vision of the CBF, the Court, and other justice partners, court patrons at the Daley Center finally have a place designed just for them.