On August 13th, our special guest on “Everyday Law” was the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Keith Brin who discussed what his office does, how his business experience has shaped his approach to government service, and what changes he has introduced to the courthouse and his office — including a more user-friendly website, online access to the court’s database, and the creation of a mobile app for court information.
The Hub of the Court System
As described by Mr. Brin, the Clerk of the Circuit Court is the hub of the court system. It is the official keeper of court records and also handles money associated with the court system, including fees and fines. The Lake County Court system is the third largest in Illinois with 5 courthouses in Lake County and 150 deputy clerks. There are a number of divisions within the Clerk’s Office including Probate, Law, Divorce, Criminal, Chancery and Traffic. The Clerk is an elected 4-year office; Keith Brin was elected in 2012 for his first term, and is will be running for re-election in the Fall of 2016. Mr. Brin worked as a deputy clerk under the previous Circuit Clerk, Sally Coffelt, during her last term in office.
The Importance of Business Experience for a Public Servant
Keith Brin brings an interesting and varied experience to his role as Clerk of the Court. He originally planned to become a doctor, and was a pre-med major as an undergraduate. After college, though, he earned a Master’s Degree of Public Health and then worked as a policy analyst for a major medical association. He found, however, that all of his ideas had to be cleared by the lawyer for the association. This experience led to his entry to law school. After completing his law degree, Mr. Brin practiced commercial law. While contemplating a move to a different law firm, Mr. Brin realized that such a move would require a great deal of energy and time away from his family. Accordingly, Mr. Brin decided to leave the field of law and return to the business world as a consultant and turnaround specialist for small and medium sized businesses. This combination of business and law experience led Keith Brin to the Office of the Circuit Clerk.
Mr. Brin’s background in law and business has also led to change in the Clerk’s Office, to make it more responsive to the needs of the people it serves. For example, one noticeable change is the presence of suggestion boxes in the Clerk’s office. Mr. Brin emphasized that the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court works for the people of Lake County. Customer service is especially important at a courthouse, as Mr. Brin pointed out that litigants are generally not pleased to be in court, to begin with. He is trying to improve the service and experience for people who must be at the Courthouse and utilize its services.
Other changes that have occurred at the Clerk’s Office include the use of nametags for all employees, standardized phone greetings and a consolidation of management positions which has resulted in taxpayer savings and a more streamlined and customer-responsive experience. A little known aspect of customer service to Lake County residents is the fact that the Clerk’s Office is an accredited passport agency where people can apply for passports and renewals.
Mr. Brin said that the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court does generate money for Lake County. The Clerk’s Office is a county office that is funded by Lake County. However, the costs of operating the Clerk’s Office is defrayed by the fees imposed which are set by the state legislature for using the Clerk’s Office –such as the costs of filing a lawsuit, or, more relevant to most non-lawyers, the Court costs and fees associated with a traffic ticket. Though it is not Mr. Brin or the County who sets those fees (it the Illinois legislature), the revenue that those fees bring in does go back into the general revenue fund of Lake County. Moreover, Mr. Brin is responsible for making a yearly budget for the Clerk’s Office which he presents to the County Board for its approval.
Innovating in Technology in the Clerk’s Office
Though the law is a tradition-bound institution that can be slow to innovate with regard to technology, Keith Brin fully embraces new technology and this has resulted in a more user-friendly website. Additionally, information regarding Court cases is available online through the Public Access System of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Lake County at circuitclerk.lakecountyil.gov/publicAccess. There is also a mobile app for the Clerk’s Office which has the same data as the Public Access System and other Courthouse information. Another innovation that is being rolled out is electronic or e-filing with the Clerk’s Office. Currently, e-filing is possible for Small Claims Court.
Although Mr. Brin knows technology well and has been instrumental in implementing it in the Clerk’s Office, he is always careful to emphasize the importance of the human factor — from the skill and dedication of the 150 deputy clerks who keep the Clerk’s Office running smoothly, to the primary goal of providing the best service possible to his boss, the people of Lake County.
Robert Monahan, Esq. is a lawyer in Gurnee, IL with his own practice in personal injury. He has a radio show on Thursday nights at 7 pm, called “Everyday Law,” on WRLR 98.3 FM, where he tries to demystify the law for the ordinary person. “Everyday Law” can be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes or other various podcatchers. His two websites are www.monahanfirm.com and www.gurneepersonalinjuryattorney.com. He also has two Facebook pages – “Robert A. Monahan, Esq.” and “Everyday Law.”