June 22, 2020

Remote Courts: Bringing Justice through Technology

AI Ecosystem

Every industry sector has its own waste, inefficiency and excessive cost inherent in its supply chain delivery systems. Eliminating waste creates better outcomes. Unless the transaction cost incurred (in terms of time, price and quality) creates value, why is it necessary? In the legal system, the growth of "remote courts" impacts the access to justice potential for all citizens.

Business techniques such as Quality Control, Process Improvement, Lean and SixSigma methodologies became common over decades. Importantly, they have transformed every business vertical for the benefit of both providers and their customers for decades. Accordingly, this has been an essential principle of the global business model for decades.

Should access to justice be any different?

Many suggest that legal services in support of access to justice should be exempt from this economic expectation. However, the Covid-19 pandemic proves there is a great deal of unnecessary waste and excess costs in the system. But, without corresponding quality improvement in the legal supply chain is the waste and cost adding value? This is why virtual court practices have emerged.

I have practiced law for over 40 years. And, I have long advocated for legal innovations which benefit both clients and the lawyers who serve them. It is not surprising that change in law is slow to take place. Because law is a profession that looks primarily to precedent as a guide to decision making.

Then, Covid-19 happened. Courts and legal service providers had to retool for a remote service model. That new model required social distance. Protection of public health forbade gatherings of strangers in any number.

Kyiv Legal Hackers Webinar

The Kyiv Legal Hackers hosted a webinar focused on the innovations being implemented by court systems globally. I joined a judge from the UK, a European Union technologist and a Big Law lawyer from Vienna. We spent 2 hours discussing the forms of technology innovations available to virtual courts for improving the "supply chain" of justice.

To navigate the webinar the following time codes direct you to the remarks by each of the presenters.

  • Ivar Tillo (EU informatics specialist) - 8:27
  • Darren Howe (UK Judge and child protection counsel) - 46:34
  • Larry Bridgesmith (US Legal Technologist) - 1:18:43
  • Stefan Eder (Austrian legal informatics specialist) - 1:46:55

Following each speaker's 15 minute presentation, they addressed questions related to remote courts from the audience.

What Covid-19 Taught Courts

Elimination of unnecessary waste in the judicial process begins by resorting to available technology to improve essential court functions. Moving from paper to digital filing may seem self-evident. But, until Covid-19 arrived, the United States Supreme Court required fillings of court documents in a paper format . . . with many copies. As a result, to limit the spread of the contagion, the Court was forced to approve digital filings. That change saved time and expense. There was no degradation of quality.

These remote courts began to experiment with telephonic hearings. Then they discovered Zoom and other virtual meeting technologies. Consequently, implementing technology driven judicial functions in the pandemic revealed there were many time and expense savings which had the effect of increasing access to court supervised justice. Some of these applications served to improve quality and others sacrificed quality to some degree. Therefore, the question for lawyers and court personnel is whether the elimination of waste sacrifices too much quality to serve the purposes of justice. As a result, this will be the work of the post-Covid-19 era.

What's next?

In analyzing these emergency modifications, attention must also focus on additional technology resources that could save time and money. Such as those that significantly improve both quality and access to justice for more people on a global scale. How might blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing and cryptocurrency improve access to justice and make it less costly?

Access to the legal system is unavailable to between 80% and 95% of the world's population. This includes advanced economies like the US and Europe. As a result, the World Justice Project periodically does deep research into the availability of legal recourse to the world's citizens. Most recently, the 2019 study revealed a startling degree of reverse progress in achieving the goal of "justice for all". See: Measuring the Justice Gap.

Digital transformation is a game changer for under utilized services. See the IBM white paper: Analytics: Dawn of the Cognitive Era As virtual courts implement these practices, justice will be accessible to more people as well.

See: What is Digital Transformation

How do we proceed?

The image at the header of this post displays the work to be done to improve outcomes in legal services. It shows that at the intersections of human needs, digital information, and the physical world operating in the context of artificial intelligence the integrated space of digital transformation is defined. And that can benefit us all. As a result, humans are better served when we apply the lessons learned from tragedies like the coronavirus contagion.

Accordingly, we were forced to learn that waste in the judicial supply chain can be eliminated and the value of the product or service can be improved. Isn't it immoral and economically foolish to allow the status quo to continue to reward those who profit from the waste?

These are questions that are squarely before us . . . today!