A Voice in the Court System for People without Lawyers

Pro se litigants may not have an advocate in the courtroom, but they have an advocate in the court system thanks to the efforts of the CBF and the Circuit Court of Cook County, who joined forces in 2009 to establish the Circuit Court Pro Se Advisory Committee.

The Committee works to improve coordination and effectiveness of services to unrepresented litigants, drawing on the experience and expertise of the diverse groups that interact with or provide services to people coming into the court without lawyers.

Currently co-chaired by Judge Sharon Sullivan, Presiding Judge for the County Division, and Judge Alison Conlon of the Circuit Court, the Committee includes judges and other court personnel including representatives from the Clerk’s office, the Sheriff’s office and the Law Library legal aid lawyers, private attorneys, and other interested stakeholders.

Over the years, the Committee has worked closely with the Circuit Court and other partners on a number of important initiatives to improve access to the courts.

For example, several years ago, the Committee partnered with graduate students from the IIT Institute of Design to study and develop recommendations for a central starting place/resource center for people without lawyers at or near the Daley Center. After conducting in-depth observation, research and analysis on existing resources and services for people without lawyers, the design team developed a comprehensive report and recommendation: Increasing access to justice for people without lawyers.  With the study as a springboard, the CBF worked closely with the Circuit Court and other partners to launch the Resource Center for People without Lawyers.

Other examples of the Committee’s work include developing referral sheets to connect unrepresented litigants with available free legal help and other self-help resources, and developing the proposal that led to the creation of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice in 2013. The CBF and the Committee continue to work in close partnership with the Commission on a number of initiatives that require statewide solutions to solve challenges in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

More recently, the Committee has made recommendations related to e-filing and courtroom technology, helping to ensure that as the court system integrates modern technology into its operations, it continues to consider the impact on people without lawyers.