While at the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva a few years ago, attorney Steven Titiner met a man who lost money to a law firm while he was in the hospital.
The man didn't have an attorney and didn't know how to file a motion to get his money back, so Titiner sat down with him and showed him what forms he needed to fill out and how to present his case to a judge.
"He came back to the court ... and the judge agreed that he should get his money back," said Titiner, a former president of the Kane County Bar Association. "I just felt like I'd done something good. I thought if this worked on this basis why don't we just make a real program so we can really help people."
That's how Titiner got the "Lawyers in the Lobby" program started in 2011. Since then, lawyers with the bar association have met with hundreds of litigants who have questions about the legal process and given them advice about how to navigate the court system.
Every Friday, two attorney volunteers with experience in small claims and eviction courtrooms provide this free service for people who currently have matters before a judge.
Appointments are not necessary for this service. Litigants can find the attorneys in the lobby of the courthouse at 100 S. Third St. between 9-11 a.m. Sessions last anywhere between 30 seconds and 20 minutes, Titiner said.
Attorneys won't end up representing the people who come in for advice, but litigants are welcome to come back — and several occassionaly do — for additional assistance.
"We have so many people doing things on their own to save money and some judges get frustrated that they don't know their way around the system," said Jon Shanower, an attorney who has volunteered for the program since it began. "This hopes to give them some more advice."
Shanower said people will generally come in to seek guidance in evictions, mortgage foreclosures and other small claims cases. Attorneys generally help around 10 or 15 people each week.
"Every person wants to feel like they got their fair time in court," said attorney Jay Wyeth, another volunteer. "This seems to be able to get people to that point. To actually get their hearing and not struggle with the nuances of the court system."
On a recent Friday, Aurora resident Rafael Baglioli sat down with Shanower after failing to serve a court summons to a car dealership he hopes to get money from after experiencing several issues with a car he bought there in April.
Baglioli, like many other litigants, used the sheriff's office to deliver the summons, but the sheriff couldn't locate the dealership.
"I don't have an idea of what I need to do and the judge speaks very fast," said Baglioli, whose first language is Portuguese.
Shanower advised he instead appoint a friend to serve the summons by obtaining what's called a motion for a private process server.
"An individual, your friend, might have a better shot," he told Baglioli.
The program has proved to be helpful for judges in the county, said Deputy Court Administrator Andrea O'Brien, adding that judges will often refer people to the program.
"The courts are very supportive of this. It's a great way for the local attorneys to assist the general public in court matters," O'Brien said. "There are a lot of forms to fill out and as a pro se litigant you are expected to be able to proceed as if you were a trained attorney. This service gives them a chance to be able to get minimal assistance on the forms."
The program's success recently spurred the creation of a similar program in Kendall County, where attorneys also provide legal assistance for free on Friday mornings.
"We get quite a few people out here that represent themselves," said Kendall County Court Administrator Nicole Swiss. "It's just a sign of the times."
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