Self-represented litigants in the Illinois Appellate Court face many unique challenges without adequate resources to help them through the appeals process. A new pro bono opportunity, Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals, is now providing them with more legal assistance. Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals was developed in partnership with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, the American Bar Association and the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI).
“The creation of a statewide virtual help desk for civil appeals is a vital and timely resource. This initiative will not only fill a much-needed gap in appellate resources and assistance for SRLs, it will also help lessen some of the barriers they face in understanding the requirements necessary to complete their appeal,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said.
This is the first-ever legal help desk for civil appeals in Illinois, which allows self-represented litigants to submit questions about their appeal through the Illinois Free Legal Answers platform for which PILI is the state administrator. The program was created to address the pressing need to provide assistance to self-represented litigants, who account for 41% of civil appeals filed in the state. Volunteer attorneys can log on to answer questions at their convenience and will remain anonymous through the online platform.
“We are proud of this partnership in developing this new and much-needed resource for self-represented Illinoisans in civil appeals,” said Michael Bergmann, Executive Director of PILI. “Thanks to the ABA, the Free Legal Answers platform is available to help those who likely have nowhere else to turn for assistance from a lawyer.”
A project of the American Bar Association, Free Legal Answers was created to increase access to advice and information about non-criminal legal matters for those who cannot afford legal assistance. It is now active in 41 jurisdictions within the United States, including Illinois. This is the first time in which the system has been adapted to include a civil appeals component, with the hope that it will be a replicable model to apply in other jurisdictions. The ABA also provides malpractice coverage to volunteer attorneys of Free Legal Answers.
“This new Illinois appellate initiative expands into a new legal arena the free and affordable civil legal services developed through ABA Free Legal Services,” said ABA President Patricia Lee Refo. “The ABA is delighted to work with our partners in Illinois to incorporate a civil appeals component that will provide assistance to additional persons, and we encourage others to consider this model.”
Clients must meet financial eligibility guidelines, not be currently incarcerated, and not be requesting assistance with criminal appeals. Before users are allowed to request legal advice, they will be asked questions to establish eligibility.
Any lawyer who is registered as active and authorized to practice with the ARDC, including those with house counsel status, can volunteer by registering at: il.freelegalanswers.org. Retired or Inactive attorneys as well as out of state licensed attorneys can also volunteer, subject to Supreme Court Rules 756(k). For Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals, PILI is seeking attorneys with appellate experience to start answering questions. PILI has resources for volunteer attorneys and can assist in setting up clinics for groups of lawyers to volunteer.
If you are an experienced appellate lawyer, after registering, you can now start answering questions through this program by visiting il.freelegalanswers.org. You can filter for questions in the “Civil Appeals” category or sign up to receive notifications when Civil Appeal questions are asked under the “Manage Subscriptions” tab.
For more information or if you have any questions about Illinois Free Legal Answers, or if you would like to set up a virtual Illinois Free Legal Answers clinic, contact Brent Page by email or at 312-832-5128.