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November 27, 2018

Dear Justice Corner: 

Last month you talked about statewide standardized forms for the Appellate Court. Can you give me more information about the circuit level forms, too? How are they developed, where can I find them, how can I give feedback on the forms, etc.?

-Judge Formsforall

 

Dear Judge Formsforall:

The development of statewide standardized forms has been a top priority for the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (ATJ Commission) since its inception. In fact, the Supreme Court, in establishing the ATJ Commission, directed that the creation of plain language forms be one of its initiatives. Additionally, developing, automating, and translating standardized, plain-language legal forms for self-represented litigants (SRLs) is the very first initiative set forth in the ATJ Commission's 2017-2020 Strategic Plan. Standardized forms provide SRLs with valuable resources and information and, in return, court procedures become more efficient.

The process for developing statewide standardized forms is governed by the following: Supreme Court Rule 10-101; M.R. 25401; and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Resolution on Standardized Court Forms. A full-time Forms Program Manager was hired in 2014 to oversee the standardized forms process. At that time, the ATJ Commission's Forms Committee (Forms Committee) had published three circuit court form suites. Additionally, six subject-matter subcommittees were drafting forms in the following areas of law: divorce; mortgage foreclosure; protective orders; name change; procedures; and adult expungement.

The ATJ Commission’s forms work has grown significantly. There are now over 30 published form suites for use in the circuit, appellate, and supreme courts. A majority of the original subject-matter subcommittees are still active. Moreover, the Forms Committee has now recruited and trained volunteers for six additional subcommittees including: appeals; juvenile expungement; other criminal records relief; civil asset forfeiture; small claims; and eviction. The Forms Committee reviews and provides final approval of all forms.

Recent legislation has triggered a need for additional standardized forms. In 2016, the revised Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act required litigants to use one financial affidavit as published by the Supreme Court. The revised Eviction Act in 2017 requires that one eviction order be used statewide. These forms were drafted by the ATJ Commission. Lastly, the newly signed Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act, PA 100-0987, creates a criminal fee waiver remedy, akin to the relief offered on the civil side, and requires that the ATJ Commission create a standardized application for waiver of criminal fees by July 2019.

The process of forms development starts with a subcommittee of subject matter experts drafting a starting document, meeting regularly via teleconference, making group edits, and going through plain language testing. Every form goes through user-testing with volunteers who provide feedback that the subcommittee reviews and makes adjustments. Once the subcommittee is satisfied with the product, it goes to the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Forms Committee for review.

Once the Forms Committee and the subcommittees have a satisfactory version, the forms suite is posted for public comment for 45 days. After public comment, the subcommittee reviews every single submitted comment and makes necessary revisions. The forms suite then goes to the Forms Committee for final review and is subsequently published. Forms are published on the AOIC website in fillable PDF and ADA compliant format. Forms Committee reviews all forms biannually to ensure continued legality and usability.

Judges can provide feedback on forms in two ways. One is through the public comment period. Every forms suite is posted for public comment for 45 days. You can go to http://illinoiscourts.gov/Forms/forms.asp to see what forms are in public comment and those that are already published. Even after a form is published, judges can also submit feedback through that website. Judges can also suggest new subject areas for forms and the Forms Committee already receives regular requests for additional form suites in the areas of adoption, guardianship, and probate, but currently does not have the bandwidth to expand into these important areas of law. All public comments or subsequent comments get reviewed. If you would like to be added to the notification list about newly posted forms, please email forms@illinoiscourts.gov

If you have questions, please contact Alison Spanner, Forms Program Manager, at aspanner@illinoiscourts.gov.  As always, please email your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants to justicecorner@illinoiscourts.gov.

-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee

  1. Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
  2. Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
  3. Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
  4. Judge Jo Beth Weber, Jefferson County
  5. David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
  6. Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford

1 A form suite includes, not only the legal form the litigant files with the court but, also: detailed instructions with information about the types of cases for which the form may be used; how to e-file; how to serve a party on the other side of a case; and, if applicable, request a court date and how to prepare for court.