The COVID-19 global pandemic presented a novel coronavirus with prevention and treatment methods then yet unknown. The Illinois Supreme Court’s response — pursuant to its administrative and supervisory authority over all courts in the state accorded by the Illinois Constitution — was to immediately lead a transformational effort, starting in March 2020, to mitigate the impact on access to justice for all Illinoisans.
Through this monumental effort to keep the trains running in our justice system, the Supreme Court, in turn, fostered “a more perfect practice of law in Illinois” through innovative means such as remote access to court proceedings and hybrid proceedings with some stakeholders present in the courtroom and others participating remotely.
On a separate but related front, judges and court stakeholders charged with the administration of justice in Illinois, the United States and, indeed, the world also experienced the urgency of significant societal issues receiving increased attention during the pandemic. The events and zeitgeist of these past two years challenged public institutions, including the court systems, to acknowledge and confront realities associated with the fair administration of justice.
Courts recognized their unique position at the vanguard of responding to societal issues and refocused efforts towards examining what systemic change is needed to make equality under the law a reality for all.
This includes issues such as a lack of diversity in the bench, bar, and court workforce and what we need to do to build a more diverse pipeline toward the legal profession. To support this mission, the Supreme Court created the position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer in 2020 to work with court leaders throughout the state and nationally.
Courts also are learning more about the effects of mental health and substance use on the profession and the relationship between impairments to mental well-being and associated conduct leading to justice involvement. In response, the court created a Statewide Behavioral Health Administrator to support all the judges, attorneys and justice stakeholders who regularly experience these issues in their work.
As the pandemic and forces of change subside and shift, the courts are not simply re-creating past systems and processes. Rather, courts have embraced the potential to learn from these experiences and create better systems that continue to meet the collective needs of our changing society. In this way, we build a more perfect practice of law in Illinois.