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Illinois is one of a very few states without statewide standardized court forms. That's beginning to change, thanks to the supreme court's Access to Justice Commission.
One of the primary goals of the Illinois Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission is to establish standardized court forms, which are expected to make it easier for pro se litigants to adequately represent themselves in state court proceedings.
According to commission member Michael Fiello, who co-chairs the commission's Standardized Forms Committee, the first batch of forms has been designed, tested and sent back to committee for a few minor changes, and should be ready for public comment in the near future.
"We're getting very close to posting our first set of standardized forms," Fiello said in late June. "We had hoped to have them posted by now - that was our original goal - but, as with any project, you don't really realize until you get into it exactly how much work and time it will take."
OPs, divorces, and more
According to Fiello, who is the managing attorney for the southern region of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, the first batch of standardized forms will bring uniformity to court filings in five different areas of law: (1) standard procedural documents; (2) orders of protection; (3) name changes; (4) expungements and sealings; and (5) divorces.
"We have for each of those areas a subcommittee and a chair, and then we've recruited volunteers to serve on those subcommittees, including lawyers, judges, circuit clerk representatives and legal aid," Fiello said. "In all, we have 25 subcommittee members who are all volunteers, in addition to liaisons from Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. Each of those subcommittees has made substantial progress."
Fiello said the subcommittees are creating a "suite" of forms for each subject, including templates for several commonly filed forms, instructions for how to use each, and copies of the forms and instructions translated into other languages.
"We are also using a style guide that we've developed in conjunction with the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts to make sure all the forms have a similar appearance and language," Fiello said. "After the forms and instructions are drafted, they undergo readability and feasibility checks."
The readability and feasibility tests have already been performed on the name-change forms, which are the closest to being ready for public use, Fiello said. The testing resulted in a few minor changes that will be made by the name-change subcommittee, and testing for the other forms is ongoing or soon to be underway.
"There is some overlap because one of our other committees in the commission is Language Access. Ultimately, what we want to do with our forms is to have them available in other languages and available to people with low vision," Fiello said. "We want them accessible to everyone."
After the testing is complete and the subcommittees are satisfied they have the documents in the best possible form, they will be posted on a website hosted by the Administrative Office for public comment, Fiello said.
"We'll see if any changes need to be made based on those public comments, and then we'll finalize them," he said.
Pro se friendly - and available to lawyers
After they are finalized, use of the standardized forms will not be mandatory, but Fiello said every state courthouse in Illinois will be required to accept the standardized forms for filing by any people (including lawyers) who wish to use them.
Fiello is confident that standardized forms will help improve access to justice for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer for particular kinds of legal proceedings, and he applauded both the supreme court and all of its commission members and volunteers for their dedication to this cause.
"There's been a tremendous amount of input and effort. It's a lot more work than we thought, but the volunteers have been wonderful and have stayed focused on the goal," Fiello said. "It reflects well on the supreme court to get behind this and really tackle it to get it done, and it's been very gratifying just from the standpoint of seeing how many members of the judiciary, the bar, and other areas have shown a willingness to step up and give their time - even though they have full-time jobs already."