March 01, 2014

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

Jeffrey D. Colman, Danielle E. Hirsch

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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