Talk Justice, an LSC Podcast: Reimagining Virtual Court to Improve User Experience

Carl Rauscher             
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 WASHINGTON–Experts discuss the user-experience of remote court proceedings and explore additional possibilities for technological innovation in the courts on the latest episode of LSC's “Talk Justice” podcast, released today. Talk Justice Co-host Molly McDonough is joined by guests Jennifer Leitch, executive director of the National Self-Represented Litigants Network in Canada, and Danielle Hirsch, court management consultant with the National Center for State Courts.   

After hasty implementation in response to emergency circumstances created by the pandemic, remote court is here to stay in many jurisdictions. At first, remote proceedings seemed a promising development in access to justice—eliminating barriers involving transportation, childcare and time off from work. But experts who have collected feedback from virtual court users are finding that they are often dissatisfied with their remote court experience.  

Canada’s National Self-Represented Litigant Project found that 89% of the self-represented litigants questioned were interested in participating in virtual hearings. However, of those who participated in virtual hearings, 62% reported a negative experience.  

Leitch explains that this data came from earlier in the pandemic when things were changing quickly, which could explain some of the negative feedback. The responses nevertheless led her team to wonder whether the format of virtual hearings could be improved beyond simply replicating the traditional court format online. Instead, she says courts should innovate and build a multi-door approach to accessing the justice system.  

“[We should be] taking this as an opportunity to think about all the different ways in which people can participate in different parts of the legal system,” Leitch says. “So whether it's an order for protection, or it's paying fines, or it's dealing with particular types of matters—it’s thinking about not just the tech side of it, but also the process side of it, and how that might need to look different in a virtual world, keeping in mind things like procedural fairness and due process.”   

Hirsch agrees that courts should take advantage of this moment of transition to improve the justice system beyond just moving regular proceedings online. She already sees states doing this in many creative ways, including Vermont, where courts have added “tech bailiffs” who assist the judges, lawyers and litigants in navigating virtual court. Additionally, Hirsch mentions a Nevada project that is working to create an online portal that triages family court cases.    

“The current moment is a crisis for the courts,” says Hirsch. “We have to maintain public trust and confidence, and so you can't just flip a coin and have a case be done. It has to have its thoughtful process—but are all the steps that had been [part of] that necessary?”   

“I think we are in this moment of great reckoning, and hopefully we’re using this moment to do the research and the thinking about how to make sure we're doing things really thoughtfully and purposefully,” Hirsch continues.      

Talk Justice episodes are available online and on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple and other popular podcast apps. The podcast is sponsored by LSC’s Leaders Council.    

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.