Self-Help Centers in Illinois
If you have a case that is in court or must be filed in court, or if you need help with other legal matters, it is best to have a lawyer, if at all possible. Lawyers know how the court and legal systems work and they help make those systems work more effectively for everyone. The reality is that many people cannot afford an attorney and that Prairie State Legal Services staff and pro bono attorneys have far more requests for legal representation than they can handle. As a result, more and more people are coming to court or trying to resolve their legal problems on their own. Often, such individuals have a very limited understanding of the law or how the court system works.
For this reason, many state courts have now set up “Self-Help Centers,” where the public can get free accurate and current legal information they need. By having access to this information, people without attorneys are able to explain their case more effectively to a judge and resolve their legal problems on their own.
In larger counties, the legal self-help centers are physically located in local county courthouses. In rural counties, the legal self-help centers are physically located at the public library in the county seat. Because these are internet-based legal self-help centers, they can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet. Public access computers can be found at local public libraries. You can also access the centers from any home computer. High speed internet access is necessary to view the instructional videos on the website. The self-help centers in our service area are listed below. Follow this link for a map of Illinois legal self-help centers.
The Centers use a combination of computer generated court pleadings, instructional videos, PDF pleadings and informational articles to educate people about their legal problems. The website also has information about non-court matters including public assistance programs. Public access computers are available at the local centers either in the courthouse or at cooperating public libraries. Materials can be printed at these locations as well. Whether in the courthouse or public libraries, there are trained navigators or navigator/librarians to help people in using the computers and website.
The legal self-help centers have been developed by local collaborations organized by the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and involving the judiciary, circuit clerk's office, local lawyers, domestic violence victim advocate agencies, Prairie State Legal Services, and Illinois Legal Aid Online. Illinois Legal Aid Online has developed the underlying website on which all of the local websites are based. They also develop and update local homepages for each site. Funding for the centers has come largely from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation as well as from local funding sources and the Illinois Bar Foundation.