Project

Civil Legal System Modernization

Civil Legal System Modernization

Each year, more than 30 million Americans encounter civil legal problems without the help of a lawyer. Many of the issues these individuals face, such as debt collection, eviction, foreclosure, child custody, bankruptcy, and disability claims, can have profound, even life-changing, implications.

Outside of the criminal courts, litigants have no constitutional right to a lawyer, and affordable legal help is hard to come by. This lack of available support forces millions of people each year to sift through forms, search websites, and show up to court with little or no assistance. Often this leads to delays and increased costs for courts and litigants, as well as procedural errors that can cause cases to be decided without all parties having their day in court.

Nearly everyone involved with the civil legal system—judges, attorneys, and litigants—agrees it must be made more fair and efficient. However, no consensus exists regarding what courts or local and state policymakers can or should do to accomplish that goal.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ civil legal system modernization project seeks to address this problem and to support efforts to deliver a system that is more accessible and effective through four key pathways:

  • Increase the availability and quality of free online legal tools that help everyone navigate complex problems and connect to resources.
  • Develop, promote, and evaluate technologies that improve how people interact with state and local courts.
  • Conduct research to identify policies that can improve outcomes for people involved in the civil legal system.
  • Build partnerships with the private sector, policymakers, and other stakeholders to advance comprehensive improvement to the civil legal system.
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Getty

Amid COVID-19 Americans' Need for Legal Information Surge

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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.

Debt Collectors
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How Debt Collectors Are Transforming State Courts

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Report

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.

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Legal Assistance Portals Help People Find Information and Resources

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When people turn to the internet to find legal help, they can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of information available and by uncertainty about which sources are reliable. To make it easier for users to access guidance, legal services organizations and courts have launched legal assistance portals.

OUR WORK

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Getty Images

Technology Solutions Can Help Modernize U.S. Civil Courts

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Technology Solutions Can Help Modernize U.S. Civil Courts

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.