To the say that the legal system looks daunting to someone who is not trained in the law and is often facing a serious legal issue when they arrive at the courthouse would be a vast understatement. And that is even more true at the Daley Center, perhaps the largest and busiest single courthouse in the country, with many thousands of people passing through each day.
The principal reason the system is so intimidating for people without lawyers is that it simply was not designed for this new reality. The court system as we know it was conceived by lawyers and judges with the idea that virtually all of its end users i.e., the litigants would be represented by lawyers. Instead, what we increasingly see is the opposite.
To make the system more welcoming and less intimidating, we need to look at the courts in a whole new way: through the eyes of the people who are coming in alone. In 2012, the CBF took a big step forward on that front when we partnered with the Circuit Court Pro Se Advisory Committee and a team of graduate design students at the IIT Institute of Design to take an in-depth look at the Daley Center courthouse though that lens of the user.
One of the particular challenges for the Daley Center at that time was the lack of a central starting point for people without lawyers. People had no idea where they could go for help when they came in, and it was a crapshoot what might happen if they asked questions. The design team conducted in-depth observation, research, and analysis of the existing services for people without lawyers in the Circuit Court, and ultimately made specific concept recommendations for key features and services that the central resource center could include.
Their comprehensive report made an immediate impact, providing a crucial boost for the long-term effort to establish the Circuit Court’s first Resource Center for People without Lawyers, which came to fruition in 2014 and incorporated many of the recommendations from the design team.
While there is much more work to be done in the overall efforts to make the courts more user-friendly and accessible for people without lawyers, the report continues to provide important guidance for how the Resource Center and the entire Daley Center courthouse can be a better experience for everyone, not just those trained in the law or represented by lawyers.