The coronavirus pandemic has 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. At the same time, courthouses were forced to shut their doors and began issuing emergency orders to triage the most urgent cases and inform the public about the status of court operations. Consequently, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, giving rise to myriad legal issues related to unemployment, access to public benefits, and housing at a time when the courts are not always open to them.
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, COVID-19 has 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, efficient online tools to solve their legal problems.