Legal Advocate Spotlight: Carolyn Clift
Carolyn Clift (left) and Danielle Hirsch, Assistant Director, Civil Justice Division, Administrative Office of IL Courts, pose for a photo after their presentation at the IEJF’s December board meeting.
Carolyn Clift is a former Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) Board President and former Chief Diversity Officer and general counsel at Health Care Services Corporation. She currently represents the IEJF on the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission.
You’ve been a longtime advocate for civil legal aid. What motivates you to work on behalf of this issue?
The continuing need for the removal of barriers to justice for people of color motivates me to work on behalf of civil legal aid. While there has been a lot of progress made in improving access to justice over the last twelve years, there are still issues surrounding equality, fairness and impartiality for diverse litigants that need to be addressed.
Tell us about the Illinois Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. Why was the Commission started and what is its focus?
The Commission was created to make access to justice a high priority for everyone in the legal system. This includes judges, clerks, attorneys, other court personnel, legal aid funders, bar associations and law schools. I believe the Commission’s focus is to remove barriers to justice for all Illinoisans and increase ease of interaction between Illinois Courts and people who can’t afford attorneys to represent their interests.
One of the issues the Commission is tackling is the number of people representing themselves in court. What are some of the challenges self-represented litigants face? And what are the Commission’s recommendations to address these challenges?
Some of the challenges self-represented litigants face include complicated forms, practices, processes and procedures, legalese and implicit bias. There are several initiatives the Commission worked on to address these challenges. They include standardized plain language legal forms, translating these standardized plain language legal forms into languages other than English, language access resources for non-English proficient litigants, support and expanded use of court-based facilitators/navigators, as well as guidelines and training for judges, circuit clerks and other court personnel.
The Commission also recently launched a Community Trust Initiative. What does the Commission hope to achieve through this effort?
The new Community Trust Committee is charged with developing community-based programming to build public trust and confidence in the court system. Through networking with social service, community service and religious and health organizations, local service providers can better understand how to provide information regarding access to justice resources and referrals to their clients.