Pew Research: Court Technology is Beginning to Deliver on its Potential

For the past few years, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) have been calling on courts to increase their use of technology–including solutions for virtual hearings, trials, and other proceedings– to help expedite legal processes and improve the experience of litigants.

These technologies include technologies for hearings and discovery, including eDiscovery and other presentation solutions for virtual hearings and trial.

Though this request was expedited a few months after the pandemic began, with states quickly adopting a range of tools to keep their court systems available to the public, there’s still much room for improvement in the way technology is used in the courtroom, according to a recent Pew study.

To begin to assess whether, and to what extent, the rapid improvements in court technology undertaken in 2020 and 2021 made the civil legal system easier to navigate, The Pew Charitable Trusts examined pandemic-related emergency orders issued by the supreme courts of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., between March 1 and Aug. 1, 2020. The review was supplemented with an analysis of court approaches to virtual hearings, e-filing, and digital notarization, with a focus on how these tools affected litigants in three of the most common types of civil cases.

The analysis focused on technologies adopted to address court processes that occur across case types, including e-filing, virtual hearings, and e-notarization, as well as the management of specific types of cases.

More room for improvements with technology in courts

Now that courts have taken the step of adopting technology, they can ensure it continues to improve the experiences of all litigants, according to the study. Pew has identified three important steps court officials should take to make their processes more open, equitable, and efficient:

1. Combine technological tools with process improvements

Technology, if layered on top of complex court processes, will only reinforce the status quo: complicated, attorney-centered procedures that are difficult for people without lawyers to navigate. Court officials must examine the processes that litigants have to complete during various types of cases to identify opportunities to simplify forms and procedures.

2. Test new tools with intended users and incorporate their feedback

Without rigorous testing of technology platforms, courts may find themselves locked into expensive systems that do little to simplify the legal process for their users. Testing not only helps courts refine and improve upon these tools, but it also gives them an opportunity to proactively engage with end users to make sure that the technology products are functional and meet their needs.

To help more courts undertake similar efforts, judicial group CCJ recommends models of participatory design, including convening stakeholders to establish shared goals, seeking design and implementation guidance from community organizations and key user groups, and incorporating user feedback mechanisms and usability testing in planning, according to the study.

3. Collect and analyze data to help guide technology decisions

Most states do not share information with the public in an easy-to-understand format. Some courts have begun to share their data with users and the media, for public information purposes, and with external evaluators to enable monitoring of their technology innovations.

For example, analysts at Indiana University are partnering with their state’s courts to examine the impact of online hearings on litigants without lawyers, according to the study. These state efforts will help courts better understand the effects of their online processes, leverage the benefits, and mitigate any harm, the study adds.

Trial presentation software, such as IPRO TrialDirector 360 can help improve the experience for litigants as well as help attorneys better present their cases during trial. Learn more about TrialDirector now.