Our courts scrambled to stay open when the Covid-19 pandemic hit — it was a tall order! They had to bump up their technology game to improve participation rates and efficiency. So how did they do?
Digital Didn’t Happen Overnight
Even before the pandemic hit, national judicial groups like the Conference of State Court Administrators began examining ways to shift away from paper documents and in-person appearances. The need for change was already on the horizon. The pandemic unfolded against a backdrop of declining public trust in all governmental institutions. Over the past decade, all courts slipped in public trust, with state courts faring better than the rest. When Covid-19 hit, innovation was elevated to urgent status, requiring the rapid and innovative adoption of accessible e-filing and video platforms for all participants.
Focus On Civil Courts
Adoption of digital tools in the civil courts has significant real-world implications.
While the criminal court was the focus of much media attention early on, civil courts were hugely affected. Whereas criminal defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel, this is not so with civil litigants. Many matters are navigated through the courts each year without an attorney, making civil litigants the largest and most diverse group (30 million). Those without attorneys face still face a system that assumes a basic level of knowledge, and those with physical disabilities or language barriers remain especially challenged to navigate our courts.
Virtual Appearances For The Win
A poll conducted by The Pew Trust Charities shows that virtual court appearances are a clear winner with respondents. The majority polled said they are comfortable with video technology. Those under 50 years of age are more enthusiastic about online remote proceedings than older adults. A large portion of poll takers noted avoiding time loss at work, finding childcare, and transportation issues were big advantages. Almost all surveyed own a cell phone (95%) and most have home internet (88%).
When it comes to civil matters, people indicated distinct preferences. Online hearings were preferred for matters like jury screening/duty, consumer debt, small claims, landlord/tenant, and arbitration/mediation. In-person appearances were preferred for family law matters.
When it comes to substance abuse treatment, client attitudes toward virtual treatment have fared well, overall. 69.8% of studied clients had to transition to a virtual treatment court. Most reported minimal barriers to technology and that they had access to necessary equipment. Those experiencing virtual court and treatment from the get-go had a more positive attitude toward virtual services. For treatment, respondents felt a better connection with staff and group members with in-person visits, while also reporting less anxiety when they met virtually. While there is a tradeoff between in-person connections and virtual appearances, the results came down favorably for the continuation of virtual services.
Technology in our courts is here to stay. Even with the innovative improvements, the court system can be frustrating if you’re going it alone. If you need legal assistance, call our office for an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.