Courts and People without Lawyers

The CBF works with the courts, the legal community, and pro bono and legal aid organizations to ensure that the courts are user-friendly, accessible and fair for people without lawyers.

In recent years, the number of people coming to court without lawyers has skyrocketed here and across the country, creating challenges and problems for the litigants as well as judges, court personnel and opposing counsel. This trend in large part is driven by the limited availability of free and affordable legal assistance. Navigating a legal system that historically has been designed for lawyers can be confusing and overwhelming, and it is challenging for many people to present their own cases in court.

The CBF works with the state and federal courts and our other partners to create and connect a continuum of assistance for people without lawyers to help them understand their legal issue, connect with available resources, address their legal problem, and understand and navigate a complex legal system.

CBF’s current and ongoing work in making the courts more user-friendly, accessible, and fair for everyone includes:

Network of Advice Desks
With our partners, the CBF works to establish, fund and continually improve the network of advice desks to provide advice, brief assistance, and appropriate referrals to people without lawyers.

Developing and Connecting Court-Based Resources
The CBF continually develops and connects resources within the state and federal courts, including by convening regular meetings of help desk attorneys, convening and staffing the Circuit Court of Cook County Pro Se Advisory Committee, and creating and publishing location-specific referral pads to help people at court connect with help and navigate the legal system.

Developing Court-Based Legal Aid and Pro Bono Programs in Areas of Need
With our partners, the CBF monitors and responds to emerging issues and gaps where court-based programs are needed. Two recent examples of our recent work in this area include:

  • The CBF played a lead role in helping to develop and support the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program.
  • The CBF worked with our partners to develop and fund the Circuit Court of Cook County Municipal Court Pro Bono Program, a partnership between the Circuit Court of Cook County, the CBA, the CBF, the Chicago Legal Clinic, CARPLS, and several law firms. The program provides pro bono representation to people without lawyers in cases where a jury demand has been filed, providing much needed help for the litigant, improving the administration of justice, and providing pro bono attorneys the opportunity to gain trial experience and litigation skills through pro bono service.

Services Making the System More Welcoming and User-Friendly
Making courthouses more welcoming, less-intimidating and more user-friendly for people without lawyers is a CBF priority. Some examples of our work in this area include:

  • Illinois JusticeCorps. The CBF first launched JusticeCorps in 2009. This innovative program is now statewide, through a partnership with the Illinois Bar Foundation, and recruits and trains students serve as guides to make courts across Illinois more welcoming and less intimidating for people without lawyers.
  • Circuit Court of Cook County Resource Center for People without Lawyers. For more than a decade, the CBF has worked with the Circuit Court of Cook County to make it easier to people to connect with help. A significant milestone in this work is the Resource Center, which opened in April 2014 with three major legal advice desks working in the Center and JusticeCorps volunteers playing an integral role in the Center’s operations.

Policy Issues
The CBF actively works on policies that will improve the experience of people coming to court without lawyers. For example, the CBF provides key support to the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, including by staff members staffing or serving on committees that are addressing statewide standardized forms and language access, which are advancing statewide policies on these important issues. The CBF also developed a comprehensive CBA/CBF Pro Se Resolution in 2009, which serves as a roadmap for how the bar can lead to increase access to justice for people without lawyers.

Web-Based Resources for People without Lawyers
The CBF facilitates and supports the availability of user-friendly web-based information and resources available online on court websites, Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) and other significant online access points.

For more information or to get involved with the CBF’s work on these issues, contact Samira Nazem at or (312) 554-8356.