Technology Solutions Can Help Modernize U.S. Civil Courts

Research and analysis on the increasing use of digital tools in the civil legal system

Technology Solutions Can Help Modernize U.S. Civil Courts
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Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant economic downturn in the U.S. as businesses closed and communities sheltered in place under state and local stay-at-home orders, causing millions of Americans to lose jobs and giving rise to myriad legal issues related to unemployment, access to public benefits, and housing. At the same time, courthouses were forced to shut their doors and began issuing emergency orders to triage the surge in urgent cases and inform the public about the status of their operations.

Although courts had already begun modernizing and digitizing many of their processes over the past decade using tools such as electronic filing and online dispute resolution, the pandemic accelerated these efforts. Virtual courtrooms have sprung up across the country, and states that offer online legal information portals have seen a spike in traffic to those websites. As growing numbers of people turn to the courts to address challenges related to eviction, debt collection, and other issues amplified by the pandemic, the civil legal system will need to continue its rapid response to ensure that members of the public have access to effective and efficient online tools to solve their legal problems.

The analyses collected here look at what courts around the country have done to move their operations online and how they can build on those efforts to improve the civil legal system for all users.

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The front facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.
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Agenda for America

Resources for federal, state, and local decision-makers

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Data-driven policymaking is not just a tool for finding new solutions for emerging challenges, it makes government more effective and better able to serve the public interest.

Image depicting a virtual screen with a judge in the top box, a man in a suit labeled Plaintiff in the bottom left box, and a black box on the bottom right with a telephone icon, labeled Defendant.
Image depicting a virtual screen with a judge in the top box, a man in a suit labeled Plaintiff in the bottom left box, and a black box on the bottom right with a telephone icon, labeled Defendant.
Report

Courts Embraced Technology and Adapted Their Operations

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The outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 forced public services to shift to online operations in a matter of weeks. For the nation’s courts, that meant reimagining how to administer justice. Media coverage has focused mainly on the effects of the digital transformation in criminal courts, but a rapid deployment of new technology also took place in the civil legal system.

Wooden gavel on silver laptop computer
Wooden gavel on silver laptop computer
Article

Technology Revolution in State Civil Courts

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With courthouses shuttered by COVID-19, civil legal systems in nearly every state moved quickly to adopt new tools to support online operation—a decisive response that enabled millions of Americans to access the courts and resolve legal issues despite the pandemic. But like any transformative change, this effort was not without its challenges.