Illinois Judicial College Draws Hundreds of Judges, Calls to Action

Illinois takes judicial education seriously. In 2015, the state Supreme Court formed the Illinois Judicial College, and very recently I was honored to participate in its first full-week debut of courses. Over 400 judges participated and there were over 100 course offerings for them. At the initial plenary session, there was energy in the room—colleagues enjoying being together, eager to learn new things and share information.

I spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing the state courts around the country at present. I urged the judges to remember that they are the engines of justice, every day—that in their hands, they hold the opportunity to make the system simpler, more accessible, and more effective.  

Public trust and confidence in the courts is waning, but not to the same extent as confidence in other institutions. A partial answer is for courts to involve stakeholders in problem-solving, to be more transparent, and more communicative.

Funding for the courts is dropping, but there, too, the answer lies in developing better relationships with the other branches of government and consistently demonstrating that courts deliver an essential service.

The rise in self-represented litigants in our courts requires us to rethink service delivery, with the end-user in mind: what tools and referrals can we provide those litigants, how can we make the process simpler, how can we help them navigate through to a fair outcome? 

And, changing dockets: that, too, is a problem we can solve. Once we move beyond the notion that every case has to be treated in the same way, to the notion that every case and case type deserves a plan—we are on the road to success. That plan need not be executed exclusively by judges, but by all members of a case management team. The key is that the court is in charge of the progress of the case—making sure that it does not languish and that it receives the attention it needs.

Judges hold the key. And by committing themselves to continuous improvement, the Illinois judges are absolutely on the right track. Going forward, the college will take place one week every other year—and I look forward to seeing their progress between now and then.