Simple Technology Options Could Have Big Impact on Litigant Experience
While technology is increasingly finding its way into courthouses around the country, substantial opportunities remain for courts to implement simple technology solutions that stand to greatly improve the experience of litigants—particularly those without an attorney. In Eighteen Ways Courts Should Use Technology to Better Serve Their Customers, IAALS explores a number of ways that existing technologies can be leveraged to assist court users.
Among the recommendations in Eighteen Ways: enable customers to present photos, videos, and other information from their smartphones in the courtroom. The technology already exists, and the court user simply has to know how to operate his or her own device in order to submit the photo as a text message. Yet the report notes that “most judges react negatively when a self-represented litigant asks her or him to look at a picture on a cellphone during the court hearing.”
There is another more foundational obstacle, though, standing in the way of full implementation of this recommendation, and that’s letting court users bring their cell phones into the courthouse in the first place. Recently, this issue was up for debate with the American Bar Association House of Delegates, whose members overwhelmingly passed Resolution 116, asking courts to balance the well-voiced concerns over security risk with the needs of self-represented litigants. Litigation Section Delegate Eileen Letts frames this as an access to justice issue, and Resolution 116 expressly “opposes cellphone policies that impose undue burdens on litigants, particularly those who are self-represented, lower income, disabled, and/or seeking emergency access to the courts.”
Another recommendation in Eighteen Ways—enable parties to appear in court by telephone or video conference—was recently covered by Law360, specifically with respect to how beneficial this can be for victims of domestic violence. As the piece highlights, this technology can facilitate survivors’ ability to quickly obtain temporary restraining orders from a safe space. Yet this capability is not available everywhere. Issues relating to budget constraints, security issues, lack of training, and rural gaps in Wi-Fi coverage are preventing many domestic violence survivors from being able to take advantage of this option.
The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) Civil Justice Improvements Committee recommendations recognize that video conferencing “offer[s] significant cost savings for litigants and generally result[s] in increased access to justice.” The CCJ/COSCA Family Justice Initiative Principles similarly acknowledge the value of video conferencing, noting in particular that “[a]llowing remote attendance at court hearings and digital submission of evidence can assist in streamlining some services in high-conflict cases.”
While obstacles remain to widespread implementation of the easily accessible recommendations in Eighteen Ways, there is at the least widespread recognition among courts and court stakeholders that opportunities for simple tech enhancements for court users exist and are well within reach.
Access the full Eighteen Ways report here and contact us if your court is interested in exploring how these solutions can impact the user experience.