Illinois courts can receive grant funding for local access to justice initiatives through the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission (ATJ Commission) and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Access to Justice Division’s (AOIC ATJ Division) ATJ Improvement Grant.
The ATJ Improvement Grant (previously named the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator grant) will award up to $30,000 to cover expenses related to the development, modification, or expansion of resources and services to improve access to justice.
All grant recipients will also automatically be enrolled as members of the Court Navigator Network, which provides training and support to people working at courthouses throughout the state who assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) and other court users.
Courts can also apply to join the Court Navigator Network without applying for grant funds.
“The creation of dedicated self-help spaces in many jurisdictions around the state is exciting,” said Jill Roberts, Deputy Director of the AOIC ATJ Division. “I hope that the programs make it easier for SRLs attempting to access our courts. Connecting courts across the state also has an effect on standardizing practices, which I hope can continue.”
Grant proposals and Court Navigator Network membership applications are due to Jill Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. on Monday, June 26.
ATJ Improvement Grant
Initiatives qualifying for the ATJ Improvement Grant include any program that advances access to justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, or procedural fairness. Anyone who works at a courthouse in Illinois can serve as a “Project Lead” for these programs.
In July 2022, 21 jurisdictions received grants. These grants were used for:
- Technology that improved the resolution of disputes between SRLs
- Trauma-informed training for circuit court staff
- Expanding public access and capabilities for Zoom, Wi-Fi, and telephones
- Improving and staffing court self-help centers
- Improving physical signage and court websites to make courts more navigable
The Project Leads for the grant recipients included circuit court clerks, administrators, law librarians, and legal counsel.
Court Navigator Network
Established in 2017 under the ATJ Commission Strategic Plan, the Court Navigator Network connects courthouses to share ideas and develop new resources and programs specifically geared toward SRLs.
The Illinois Supreme Court identified large numbers of SRLs as a nationwide challenge to courts in its 2021 Annual Report. The Court estimates that more than 90,000 cases were closed with at least one SRL appearing in Illinois in 2021.
According to the ATJ Commission, current members of the Network become aware of what their counterparts throughout the state are doing to provide the best possible service for SRLs. These members repeatedly report that “this cross-jurisdictional information sharing is the most beneficial aspect of the program,” the ATJ Commission said when sharing details about the grants.
Members of the Network are expected to:
- Participate in orientation (in-person or virtual), tentatively scheduled for the week of August 14, 2023, and ongoing monthly virtual trainings on relevant topics
- Cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate with Network members
- Partner with the ATJ Commission, AOIC, and Network members to identify statewide needs and emerging trends and to collaborate on larger-scale solutions
- Secure a replacement representative from the jurisdiction if the original member is unable to continue work as a Network member
The monthly trainings focus on topics such as information vs. legal advice, making referrals, customer service, implicit bias, assisting people who are dealing with mental illness, plain language, user-centered design, communication/de-escalation, and working with court users who have low literacy levels.
For questions about applying for the ATJ Improvement Grant or membership to the Court Navigator Network, please contact Jill Roberts, Deputy Director, AOIC ATJ Division, at email@example.com.
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