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.