Redesigning the Court User Experience

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Lawyer and designer (and interesting thinker-about-law) Margaret Hagan doesn’t offer much context for this drawing, but a previous post makes it look like the California bench is taking note of court users’ experiences in order to improve. From another drawing apparently from the same panel, the following quotation is attributed to Martin Hoshino, the Administrative Director of the Judicial Council of California:

We need to take the perspective of court users to change the court system. We have to prioritize their experiences to make a system that works better.

That statement, juxtaposed with quotations from a non-lawyer, is pretty striking. To the extent courts have been intentionally designed for anything, it seems to have been for judges, lawyers, and keeping criminal defendants restrained. There is little or no consideration for the client or for pro se parties. I’ve been in a lot of courtrooms, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen clear directions on whether and how someone should check in when they get to court. Like everything that happens after that, it’s a mystery — at least until you have done it a few times.

I don’t know whether courts around the country are having similar conversations, but between the low public opinion of the court system and the proliferation of self representation, they probably should.

After all, there are two ways to look at the fact that in many courthouses, represented parties are the exception rather than the rule. On the one hand, you can see that as a crisis for access to justice (or as some have pointed out, access to lawyers) . On the other, you can see it as evidence that pro se representation is becoming normalized. If that’s the case, then the courts definitely need to become more efficient and effective when it comes to working with pro se parties.

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  • Jason Morris

    Here’s the thought experiment I use: Imagine that there were no courts, and no lawyers, and that instead, you had to pay an arbitrator to impose legally-enforceable agreements between the parties. Now let’s say that you are in charge of designing the customer experience for a corporation that is competing on customer experience in this field. And, to reflect the realities, presume that cost efficiency is a major motivator for both the corporation and the customer.

    For me, at least, I end up with something that it unrecognizable as a “courthouse.” Everything is possible to do online, and everything is accessible by API, so that other people can build tools to use it more easily. Pleadings, evidence, submissions all go in electronically. Questions between the parties are dealt with asynchronously, not in deposition meetings. Evidence is recorded. Transcriptions are optional and automated. The physical facility deals primarily with three things: physical evidence, oral hearings, and customer service.

    All of which is just to say, we need to think further than whether “check in” should be made easier in docket court. We need to think about whether or not docket court has any excuse for existing.

    • Well, the check-in experience is just an example of how most courts have ignored even the most obvious things.

      But yes, you’re right. We could design a much more user-friendly court system from the ground up.