Access for Equity
Justice is a fundamental American value, yet barriers remain. Underserved constituents, for example, may be less able to visit a courthouse in person or endure long waits during normal business hours. Enhancing access to justice leads to more equitable and inclusive communities. The practical pathway to enhanced, or accelerated, justice is to provide easy access to lower-cost alternatives to the court system that mirror the intuitive, 24/7 online experience citizens have come to expect.
Courts across the country are trailblazing innovative use of modern technology to power these alternatives. The outcomes are improved constituent services as well as improved internal processes. When courts effectively bring self-help services to citizens and create collaborative justice partnerships, they save time and money along the way.
A Self-Service Solution
The complexities of laws and procedures can make processes such as name changes, fee waivers, small claims, and divorce proceedings difficult for citizens to complete without an attorney’s help. For many, financial constraints preclude legal representation.
Clark County, Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District took creative steps to simplify legal processes by implementing e-filing software, similar in idea to TurboTax™, in legal aid self-help centers. The software, installed at kiosks in the centers, helps individuals by turning legal forms into self-guided interviews for 22 different case types, from child custody to summary eviction, with more being added regularly. Their responses automatically generate all necessary forms for case filings.
In 2018, more than 4,500 interviews were completed in this way, indicating the program’s momentum. Even less-computer savvy users have been able to copy the link and fill out the interviews at home or elsewhere with the help of a family member. Nearly 75 percent of users surveyed, spanning ages 18 to over-65, preferred to handle forms electronically rather than in-person at the courthouse.
An interesting feature is the set of qualifying questions that bounces an individual out of the interview if he or she does not qualify or has the wrong form. Not only does this save the constituent time, it saves rejection or denial time and paperwork on the court side. This access is not only significant for citizens, but beneficial for the court as well, as this self-service reduces the amount of time each clerk spends on incorrectly filed cases, ultimately saving significant taxpayer dollars.
Fast and Fair Online Resolutions
Also in Clark County, officials piloted a guided, online dispute resolution system in three of the county’s 20 family courts. Roll-out to all 20 courts is expected this year. The system enables divorcing couples in contested cases involving children work through their issues online, with less out-of-pocket expense and without potentially volatile face-to-face situations. The digitally-tracked, online communications reduce stress and can be handled by each parent individually, at his or her convenience, with the option of including a neutral mediator. The innovative combination of alternative dispute resolution practices with rules-based technology and online case management facilitates fast and fair resolutions while increasing court efficiency by dramatically reducing caseloads. The goal is for couples to achieve 100 percent binding settlement resolution without ever needing in-person mediation. Even cases that do escalate to in-person mediation are significantly closer to resolution after the online process.
Increased efficiency and timeliness enhance access to justice by enabling citizens to achieve positive outcomes with little to no assistance from the courts. The road to digital maturity that includes these solutions and others begins with a vision to adopt new technology for ongoing improvements in serving constituents and streamlining judicial processes.
Read more about Clark County’s online dispute resolution program and how greater digitization gives justice system partners real returns on investment in this recent blog post from Tyler, Online Mediation Offers What Courts Can’t.
To learn how to improve access to justice, empower legal professionals, and enable collaboration across agencies in your justice system, download Governing and Tyler Technologies’ newest Courts & Justice white paper, Three Ways an Electronic Court Improves the Justice System.
The content of this blog post was developed and produced exclusively by one of NACo’s Corporate Partners, Tyler Technologies.