A civil lawsuit is any court case that is not considered criminal, such as a consumer complaint or a child custody case. These cases are tried when a complaint is filed by an individual against another person or collection of people. When an individual files a civil case in Illinois without the assistance of a lawyer, he is considered a pro se litigant. A pro se litigant can ask state employees general questions about court procedures, but he cannot ask state employees for legal advice; this is why more complicated civil cases may require the help of a lawyer.
Visit your local clerk of court's office to pick up the necessary forms. This includes a complaint form, civil cover sheet, the appearance form and a summons. The civil cover sheet is available with a form titled JS-44.
Write a draft of your complaint before transferring it to the official form. Use your own words to describe the events leading to the case and your reasons for suing. Use a clear language and lay the facts out along a timetable. Be specific about dates, times and any communication exchanged with the defendant.
Complete the complaint form with your final draft. If you don't have enough room on the form to finish your complaint, attach extra pages and include your telephone number, address and signature on the last page. Attach any evidence, such as photos of damage or a record of email exchanges, to the completed complaint form.
Make copies of your complaint. You will give the court one copy that is submitted to the judge and one copy for each defendant, as well as the original that is filed. Keep two copies for your own files.
Fill out the civil cover sheet and appearance forms. The civil cover sheet is filed with your complaint; it helps the clerk staff prepare your case for the docket. The appearance form names who is acting as attorney in the case. If you are representing yourself, write "pro se" next to your name on the appearance form.
Complete the summons form. This notifies the defendant that she is being sued. Include your own name and address under "plaintiff's attorney" if you are representing yourself.
File your case at the clerk of court's office and pay the filing fees. As of 2011, the fees for Illinois civil cases are over $300. In the event you cannot pay the fees, bring a completed copy of the in forma pauperis petition to the clerk of court when you file your case. This petition asks the court to allow the case to proceed without payment.