Increasing Access to Justice for the Elderly and Others: The Illinois Experience

Vol. 24 No. 1

By

Jeffrey D. Colman, a partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago, is a litigator and co-chair of its Professional Responsibility Practice. He is a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, and he has been active in a number of other efforts designed to increase access to justice in Illinois.

Danielle E. Hirsch is the assistant director of the Civil Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, which is charged with improving access to the state’s civil justice system. She previously served as executive director for the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and remains its liaison from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts.

In most civil cases, a person does not have a constitutional right to legal representation, even though civil legal proceedings can affect fundamental matters such as guardianship, placement in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, custody of children or grandchildren, and physical safety and shelter, to name just a few. Many people—because they lack the financial resources to hire a lawyer—are forced to navigate the civil legal system unrepresented and alone, too often with negative consequences. People are often unrepresented, not only because of financial reasons, but also because they do not know they have legal rights or that a lawyer can help them. The consequences of unaddressed civil legal problems can be devastating and can spill over into other aspects of life. For an older adult with limited resources, for example, losing disability benefits can lead to homelessness. And if a senior citizen with limited resources is unable to secure legal protection from an abusive relationship, he or she may face a dangerous living situation and financial insecurity and instability.

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