In my last post, I explained how courts could make court technology leapfrogs. In short, they can leapfrog from A (pre-industrial revolution) past B (post-industrial revolution) to C (the information and technology revolution).
Courts can do the same thing when it comes to usability.
Usability and access to justice
Access to justice is a big problem for courts. They are past the point where incremental improvements can make a big enough difference.
Court procedures are often difficult for lawyers and impossible for ordinary people to understand. Some courts have uploaded their rules to the web and put hypertext links to definitions to try and make them more understandable. This kind of approach creates an incremental improvement at best.
A court can leapfrog this evolutionary step by moving its business into a technology-based platform that has the rules and procedures built into in in the form of business rules. Significant usability improvements can improve access.
Example: built in guidance for basic procedures like serving documents
Imagine a user has filed a claim. Now they have to read through the rules to learn that they have to serve a copy of the claim on the respondent. There will probably be separate rules for different types of respondents (e.g. corporations vs individuals) – and potentially multiple procedural choices with no indication which apply to the user’s situation. The user also has to calculate different dates and deadlines. Only if the user continues reading the rules will he or she learn that confirming notice with the court is a mandatory step.
Even for a relatively basic process like serving a document, there can be many pages of complicated rules and forms. Throwing a complete set of court rules on the web with some hypertext links for defined terms won’t make the process simple. Fillable PDFs made to look like digital copies of static court forms can’t solve this usability problem either.
Now imagine an online court platform that:
- Tells users where they are in the overall court process
- Automatically calculates dates and timelines
- Shows step-by step instructions that change depending on the circumstances of the case
- Lists procedural choices and options the user can choose from
Courts can build rules and procedures right into a platform to make it easier for users to follow procedures. Users could still read a complete set of rules if they want. But it’s not a prerequisite to using the court. Procedures should help; not to serve as a barrier to accessing justice.
We can make these improvements now, without spending time and resources on incremental tweaks that amount to paving the cowpath in the court process. There’s no need to follow the slow path of evolution when we know how to leapfrog into a usability revolution for courts and access to justice.