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The Pro Se Revolution


It's not unusual to hear judges and lawyers - mostly judges - talk about how many pro se litigants they encounter these days. And the eye-popping statistics more than bear out the anecdotal evidence.

Data from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts ("AOIC") show that in 2015, nearly two-thirds of total civil cases outside Cook County - 65.2 percent - had at least one self-represented litigant. For certain types of cases, this figure rises as high as 80 percent. In addition, the court system is facing the facts that one out of five Illinois residents speaks a language other than English at home according to U.S. Census data, the number of Illinois residents below the poverty line has grown, and the number of pro bono attorneys has not kept pace.

"People are self-represented for a whole host of reasons," says Danielle Hirsch, assistant director of the AOIC's Civil Justice Division. "Some can't afford representation, some don't know where to find it, and some are do-it-yourselfers who want the sport of trying it on their own. It would be hard to treat them as a monolith." Hirsch adds that in practice areas like small claims or family, "the default is self-representation." And defendants overall are about two-thirds pro se, she says.

This deluge causes problems for the court system and everyone involved - judges, bailiffs, even opposing counsel - if self-represented people are simply left to sink or swim, leading to confusion and delays. To confront this reality, the Illinois Supreme Court in 2012 created the Commission on Access to Justice ("ATJ"), which has taken steps like developing standardized forms, assisting those with language barriers, and training and guiding court personnel.

How can and should practicing lawyers respond to the growth in pro se litigation? Find out in the October Illinois Bar Journal.

Posted on Sep 20, 2017 by Mark Mathewson | Comments (0)
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