Friday, July 6, 2018

Lessons on Court Public Access

Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford University, posted a terrific article that summarizes the results of their policy lab course this spring on “Community-Led System Design Practice”.  The entire article is enlightening.  I will highlight some findings I found particularly interesting below.


The lab students served as interviewers of 55 Santa Clara County, California court-users during the study. Results that I found particularly interesting were:

  1. The interviewees preferred answering their questions on a tablet versus paper.  I guess the touch phone/screen culture has won?
  2. The survey allowed for open questions that were reported to help to establish “trust and ease-of participation” in the survey.
  3. Language was somewhat of a barrier as the persons preferring the Spanish language had to rely upon native speakers on the survey team to allow their participation.
  4. An English language consent form was provided on a laptop and a paper copy provided to each survey participant.

In the section that ranked innovation ideas, the users preferred, “chat on a website with a law librarian or lawyer” was ranked first.  This is a very significant finding as it allows for projects that use distributed resources that in turn could be managed via a load balancing/scheduling system.  In other words, Uber for lawyers/paralegals who could be paid by the ride/chat.

Respondents also preferred “personalized attention”.  Well, this is not surprising as people do not come to court for “policy reasons”.  They come to court because they have a problem that they wish to solve.  This correlates with the survey result that “impersonalized solutions were the least valued”.  In my opinion, this argues against the typical court approach of just providing access to the forms and the law library.  This way provides no real help at all for resolving the case for the litigant or the court.

And my last comment, the finding that “technology is valued if it promotes virtual services (not having to come to court).  Thank you.  It is something that many of us have understood for a very long time going all the way back to the early 90’s and the advent of E-filing.  Also remember that A2J project occurred almost 20 years ago.  “CourtCall” anyone?  This is one finding that can be used as a foundational policy concept in many court technology plans.

Congratulations to Legal Design Lab team for this illuminating and useful work.

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