There is little about navigating the American Justice System made easy. There are many barriers to accessing justice between the complexity of legal terminologies, the confusing processes and protocols, and the costs involved in obtaining legal representation.
These barriers make access to justice particularly problematic for low-income earning Americans and their families — so much so that the statistics speak for themselves.
According to data from the Legal Services Corporation, the issue of access to justice had already become critically relevant back in 2017, with low-earning US citizens receiving either inadequate or no professional legal assistance for 86% of their civil legal challenges.
Technology bridging the gap
In recent times, advancements in technology and its accessibility have been rising to the challenge of bridging the gap in access to justice issues.
Over the last few years, the growing accessibility of technology, such as video conferencing, has been increasingly supporting everyday Americans to participate in a trial or a hearing without having to take significant time away from work.
Meanwhile, the advancements in alternative tools for dispute resolution, digital evidence, and documentation platforms, as well as e-filing, are all working towards revolutionizing the courtroom and its processes. Before long, technology may enable you to file, for example, a small claims lawsuit and see it all the way through to trial without leaving the comfort of your home.
Digital modernization of courtrooms driven by the pandemic
While technological advancements have been gradually transforming courts and the justice system for some time now, the conditions of the pandemic became a catalyst for unprecedented change.
As courtrooms across the globe shut their doors and their backlog of cases grew ever more significant, the opportunity for experimental technologies to come to the rescue presented itself. Courtrooms, faced with no other option, adopted tech to assist significantly in not only overcoming the lockdown-related constraints but transforming the justice system more broadly.
What started to keep the legal system running during a global pandemic became something far more significant. As technologies provided ease of access under challenging times, the results were far-reaching. They signaled the dawn of a new era in access to justice.
A new era in access to justice
As the pandemic restrictions ease, the adoption of advanced technologies remains throughout the legal justice system. Many court systems now operate with digital tools that effectively support virtual and hybrid hearings and alternative approaches to dispute resolutions.
The broader system now recognizes that the entire legal process, from initial discovery to trial, can be conducted in an accessible format that is easy to use and understand, thus improving access to justice for everyone.
Increased remote video hearings leading to wider acceptance of virtual trials and hearings
According to the American Bar Association, a steady increase in the inclusion of video appearances by parties involved in motion and evidentiary hearings is expected, and these will include remote witnesses, lawyers, and occasionally judges.
There may be some hesitancy initially, but the quality achieved with modern technology allows these parties to appear on video displays in high-definition. It will likely quash any reservations in time.
It is even anticipated that the increased use of remote video technology will allow attorneys to attend multiple country-wide hearings and trials in one day virtually. These advancements can only lead to increased efficiencies within the legal system.
E-filing is fast becoming the norm
As remote video technology has brought about a wider acceptance of a digital era in the legal system, other technological adoptions also transform everyday processes.
E-filing is a prime example of how other digital solutions quickly become acceptable alternatives to antiquated processes that overload the system. E-filing enables courts to receive the necessary digital records with minimum human intervention. E-filing eliminates the colossal storage needs when it comes to paper-based filings and makes for a more efficiently-run system, promoting more accessibility for all.
However, to ensure that accessibility is not compromised for electronically challenged, courts will need to maintain a location and assign personnel to handle scanning needs and assist with electronic filing for the foreseeable future.
Continued improvements in access to justice
The conditions of the pandemic have undoubtedly given rise to a significant shift in the way technology is transforming the legal system, but there is still a long way to go.
A widespread, long-term technological transformation in the legal system will require an ongoing effort when it comes to both purpose-built technology developments and openness by legal professionals to adopt these new solutions.
Usability and reliability will be pivotal in having technologies see significant uptake throughout the legal system, and remote video tech is certainly leading the charge. Ultimately, the more efficiently the system runs, and the more connected we all become to the digital world, the more accessibility to justice there will be for all.