Judicial Innovation Fellowship to Supply Regional Courts with Experienced Technology Support
March 24, 2023
The Judicial Innovation Fellowship (JIF) announced its inaugural shortlist of projects to develop technology solutions for improving justice in America. The JIF program, incubating at Georgetown Law, brings experienced technologists and designers into state, local and tribal courts to develop innovative solutions that improve the public’s access to justice. This first-of-its-kind program will place its inaugural cohort of fellows in September 2023.
JIF received 18 proposals from 14 courts from every region of the country. With the help of a national group of experts to review proposals, the three shortlisted court projects focus on common problems and expand access to justice. The 2023-24 cohort of Judicial Innovation Fellows will have the opportunity to work with:
- The Hamilton County General Sessions Court and Hamilton County Mayor’s Office in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The JIF fellow will audit and improve how courts and information technology departments share data to understand court patron experiences across government services, the criminal justice system, and court debt obligations in an effort to break cycles of debt, homelessness, and criminal recidivism.
- The Kansas Supreme Court Office of Judicial Administration. The JIF fellow will design the prototype of a user-friendly electronic filing system that works for people who don’t have access to a lawyer, also called self-represented litigants or SRLs. The fellow will have the choice to be based in either the Kansas City metro or Topeka.
- The Utah State Courts’ Self-Help Center. The JIF fellow will develop internal processes for SRL customer development research, a guideline for hypothesis testing, and a style guide for court tools. The project will be based in Salt Lake City.
Each project focuses on scalable, replicable and open-source solutions that increase court transparency, efficiency and equity.
“At the Utah State Courts, we know that a business-as-usual approach won’t move the needle on access to justice,” says Nathanael Player, the director of the Utah State Courts Self-Help Center. “The JIF fellow will serve as both a multiplier, taking all of our self-help tools to the next level, and as a changemaker, helping us to incorporate design thinking into our processes and culture. As with other initiatives where Utah has led the way, we hope that these innovations can be helpful in other jurisdictions.”
The JIF program launched last fall with a stated goal of leveraging technical talent to help close the justice gap. Each year, 55 million Americans experience 260 million civil legal problems—including issues with eviction, consumer debt, domestic violence, veterans’ benefits and health care. Hundreds of thousands more go through criminal proceedings. Despite this staggering number, court processes are often confusing and not user-friendly. Made easier with an attorney, vanishingly fewer Americans enter civil court with representation. 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.
“This project supports Kansas court modernization efforts to better serve court users,” said Stephanie Smith, the Kansas Judicial Branch’s judicial administrator. “Through it, we will increase access to justice by creating a more equitable electronic filing infrastructure for people without an attorney to represent them.”
To learn how technologists can lead justice solutions, the JIF program undertook a six month design process and interviewed 120 experts in court administration, access to justice, and technology. This work culminated in the publication of the Judicial Innovation Roadmap, which found that state, local, tribal, and territorial courts are struggling with a lack of funding and key staffing, which cripples innovation efforts. By making technologists accessible to its court partners at no cost, JIF can help courts overcome this key hurdle.
“Having an outside set of eyes assess and recommend improvements to our court case management and user interface systems will be beneficial to all of the jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies, and citizens who use these systems, including Hamilton County’s Criminal Justice online system (CJUS),” said General Sessions Judge Larry Ables in Hamilton County. “I am also excited to learn about the ways these criminal and civil systems might be able to better integrate to assist those appearing in our courts.”
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, including Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
With the selection of the shortlist complete, the Judicial Innovation Fellowship is now undertaking a national search to find three exceptional technologists, designers, data scientists, and product managers to work on these projects. Applications are currently open and close April 7 at 12pm PT.
- Jason Tashea, JIF Director, email@example.com
- Sarah Hoskinson, Director of Access to Justice, Kansas Judicial Branch, 785-581-3989
- Tania Mashburn, Director of Communications, Utah State Courts, 801-712-4545
- Shawn Johnson, Chief Administrative Officer, Hamilton County General Sessions Court, shawnJ@hamiltontn.gov
- Mary Francis Hoots, Director of Communications, Hamilton County Mayor’s Office, firstname.lastname@example.org