Georgetown Law Launches Access-to-Justice Initiative to Deploy Technologists to Courts

November 29, 2022

The Judicial Innovation Fellowship will bring experienced technologists and designers into state, local, and tribal courts to develop technology-based solutions that improve the public’s access to justice. This first-of-its-kind program launched on Tuesday and will place its inaugural cohort of fellows in September 2023.

“Technology innovation represents the most cost-effective, widely beneficial opportunity for courts to meet the needs of their 21st century users,” said Judge Jennifer Bailey of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit and Judicial Innovation Fellowship advisor. “The Judicial Innovation Fellowship represents a real chance to move forward.”

For many, courts are the most common touch point with the government, but access is often denied. Each year, 55 million Americans experience 260 million civil legal problems—including issues with eviction, consumer debt, domestic violence, veterans’ benefits, and health care. Despite this staggering number of those impacted, court processes are often confusing, not user-friendly, and built with lawyers in mind, even though vanishingly fewer Americans can afford an attorney. Ninety-two percent of low-income individuals facing a legal problem receive inadequate or no legal help, a problem increasingly felt by the middle class. This gap between need and support has created a national access to justice crisis that urgently requires new solutions from courts.

“As more and more people come to court without a lawyer, we, as court leaders, need smart, innovative solutions to improve how we interact with the public,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. “The Judicial Innovation Fellowship helps courts move toward a more innovative and equitable future.”

Fellows will be embedded in state, local and tribal courts, gathering first-hand evidence of problems that can benefit from technological solutions. They will work on projects that will improve how the public interacts with courts online, like through electronic filing; simplifying burdensome processes, like changing a court date; and how courts collect and use data, improving the business case for better court funding. These projects can improve the transparency, efficiency, and equity of our justice system.

“The JIF program will be a catalyst for fundamental organizational and cultural changes in state, local, and tribal courts to improve the civil and criminal systems. Courts are foundational to the administration of law in our democratic system, but are failing users and the public every day,” said Prof. Tanina Rostain, the principal investigator and program co-founder. “The goal is not to incorporate technology into courts simply for technology’s sake, but to embed technology and design into court administration and services to improve the ease with which users interact with courts, make courts more equitable, and increase court transparency and accountability.”

The new program is led by Schmidt Innovation Fellow Jason Tashea and Prof. Tanina Rostain. The Judicial Innovation Fellowship is incubating in the Justice Lab at the Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown University Law Center. The Justice Lab is devoted to designing and evaluating innovative approaches, including technology-based approaches, to help people understand how the law applies to them and are empowered to solve their legal problems. The Institute for Technology Law & Policy has a mission to close the gap between law, policy, and technology by training students, educating policymakers, and informing the public about the key challenges and opportunities that arise at the intersection of law and technology. Generous funding is made possible by the New Venture Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For those interested in learning more about how to participate, the Judicial Innovation Fellowship will host information sessions for courts on January 11 at 12pm PT/3pm ET and technologists and designers on February 28 at 12:30 pm PT/3:30 pm ET.

An open application process for courts and fellows will start early next year.

Georgetown University Law Center is a global leader in legal education based in the heart of the U.S. capital. As the nation’s largest law school, Georgetown Law offers students an unmatched breadth and depth of academic opportunities taught by a world-class faculty of celebrated theorists and leading legal practitioners. Second to none in experiential education, the Law Center’s numerous clinics are deeply woven into the Washington, D.C., landscape. More than 20 centers and institutes forge cutting-edge research and policy resources across fields including health, the environment, human rights, technology, national security and international economics. Georgetown Law equips students to succeed in a rapidly evolving legal environment and to make a profound difference in the world, guided by the school’s motto, “Law is but the means, justice is the end.”