Clear Information Can Help Millions of Americans Access the Civil Legal System

Research and analysis on strategies to maximize court investments in technology and better support litigants

Clear Information Can Help With Access the Civil Legal System

Roughly 30 million Americans encounter a legal problem related to housing, finances, or family each year, and courts and other civil legal system operators, such as legal aid groups, have developed technology resources to help people navigate those matters. But without associated process improvements, technology projects cannot reach their full potential.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is partnering with Stanford University Law School and Suffolk University Law School to improve the availability, accessibility, and usability of online legal information and court forms. This work seeks to develop technology reforms that can help courts serve more people, and pair those changes with improvements to associated court processes in order to enhance people’s experiences and interactions with the legal system.

The resources collected here describe the scope and scale of the legal information currently available online and offer insights on how courts and others can expand and improve the quality and reliability of those offerings.

OUR WORK

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.
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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.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Technology Solutions Can Help Modernize U.S. Civil Courts

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State and local civil court dockets across the U.S. are dominated by cases in which at least one side does not have a lawyer. And in many of these cases, the defendant does not respond to the lawsuit at all, resulting in an automatic ruling for the plaintiff, which can often have serious consequences for the defendant.

Debt Collectors
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How Debt Collectors Are Transforming State Courts

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The business of state civil courts has changed over the past three decades. In 1990, a typical civil court docket featured cases with two opposing sides, each with an attorney, most frequently regarding commercial matters and disputes over contracts, injuries, and other harms.