“What can we help you with today?”

June 27, 2014

This is the phrase heard over and over in the concourse level of the Daley Center as court patrons visit the new Circuit Court of Cook County Resource Center for People without Lawyers. The Center is a major milestone in the longer-term effort to make the court system more user-friendly and accessible for people without lawyers, a key goal of both the CBF and the Circuit Court. Fully operational as of April 2014, the Center includes three major legal advice desks—the Municipal Court Advice Desk, the Chancery Court Advice Desk and the Domestic Relations Advice Desk. These three desks, which are managed and staffed by lawyers from CARPLS and the Chicago Legal Clinic (CLC), moved from several locations in the courthouse and collectively now help approximately 100 clients each day in the Center. 

The new Center is just one part of a larger array of resources available to help people without lawyers in the Circuit Court. For more than a decade, the CBF has worked with the Circuit Court, CARPLS, CLC and several other pro bono and legal aid organizations, the CBA and other stakeholders to develop and nurture a network of more than 10 legal advice desks to serve people without lawyers in the Daley Center and other court-based locations. The CBF provides key funding and other support for these desks because they provide critical help for people coming into the courts on their own. An advice desk lawyer can triage the situation, give brief legal advice and assistance, and make a referral to pro bono and legal aid lawyers when necessary and available. These desks have been developed gradually over the years and spread throughout the Daley Center and beyond, utilizing any space that could be found over time. Consolidating three of the largest desks in the new Center has created numerous efficiencies and allows people to receive help in more centralized private space.

One of the many advantages for both clients and the advice desks in the Center is the presence of JusticeCorps, an innovative AmeriCorps program that the CBF first launched in 2009 and for the past two years has operated in partnership with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice. JusticeCorps volunteers, who are students and recent graduates, act as docents and provide other procedural and navigational assistance to people without lawyers. Every morning starting at 8:00 am, JusticeCorps volunteers are on-site at the Center, managing the flow of traffic, checking people into the Center, and helping people get to where they need to be in the Daley Center. In the Center’s first full month of operation alone, JusticeCorps members provided assistance to almost 2,000 people.

The CBF’s vision of a truly user-friendly and accessible justice system has long included a “central starting point” in the Daley Center where people without lawyers can receive help navigating a complex system as well as brief legal advice and assistance and referrals to other services. Thanks to the leadership of Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans and our other partners, the Center is a big first step towards that goal.

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