CBA Record July-August 2019

Chicago Bar Foundation Report

Navigating the Courthouse Maze without a Lawyer: Perspectives from Illinois JusticeCorps By Cortney Redman, Regional Program Manager, Illinois JusticeCorps

in the legal community must continue seeking out, building, and supporting new and innovative solutions like Illinois JusticeCorps. For more information or to find out how you can get involved with Illinois JusticeCorps or other access to justice initiatives, visit the CBF website at or call 312/554- 1204. JusticeCorps volunteers Here are the experiences and perspectives of four current JusticeCorps volunteers working in courthouses in the greater Chicago area. Lauren Spungen, Lake County Courthouse, Waukegan Serving as a JusticeCorps volunteer at the Lake County Courthouse has opened my eyes to the many barriers that prevent people without lawyers from finding access to justice. I see how, without the expertise of an attorney, individuals with civil court cases struggle to protect the people and possessions most important to them, all while navigating a seemingly Kafkaesque legal system effectively on their own. I frequently encounter people in the courthouse who have trouble comprehending the language used both on court forms and in the courtroom. For non-English speakers, this obstacle is self-evident; they are expected to prepare motions and responses in English, and then must comply with court orders written in a language that they do not

From the moment a person without a lawyer steps foot in the courthouse, they must overcome obstacles to participate fully in the justice system. These obstacles, both procedural and substantive, can make someone feel like they have lost their case before it has even started. Fortunately for court patrons in the Daley Center and at some other Illinois courthouses, an inno- vative program is available to help: Illinois JusticeCorps. Pioneered byThe Chicago Bar Founda- tion in 2012, Illinois JusticeCorps trains and places college students and recent college graduates in courthouses across Illinois to make the courts more welcom- ing and less intimidating. For people without lawyers, navigating a system that has historically been inhabited exclusively by lawyers can feel nearly impossible. Justi- ceCorps volunteers can help court patrons in a variety of ways by offering navigational assistance, legal information, and referrals. JusticeCorps has expanded over the years in partnership with the Illinois Bar Foundation, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, and the Serve Illinois Commission. The program now operates in 13 sites throughout the state. While JusticeCorps has the same goal in each location—helping people without lawyers—each site is unique and reflects the resources and needs of each courthouse. A Call to Action As the number of people without lawyers coming to court continues to rise, we

Lauren Spungen

understand fluently. A similar language barrier exists even for English speakers— legal terms such as “appearance” or “alias summons” are likely unfamiliar and might need to be explained in simpler language. The logistics of coming to court can also be taxing for people without lawyers. For many, a court date means a day without income, or perhaps even job loss. Parents might also have to find childcare while they are in court. When individuals without lawyers finally enter the courthouse, perhaps for the first time, they are often unsure where to go, to whom to speak, and how to act in the courtroom. I have been continually amazed by Lake County’s commitment to eliminating the obstacles faced by people without lawyers. Last fall, the family division opened a courtroom to address only matters where

16 July/August 2019

Made with FlippingBook Annual report