Judicial Perspectives on ODR and Other Virtual Court Processes

P.L. Embley writing for the Joint Technology Committee (JTC)

-- Just a few months ago, most US courts significantly lagged behind banking, education, retail, healthcare, and other industries in the use of technology. Until mid-March 2020, that is, when US courts suddenly, overwhelmingly embraced some uses of technology, almost overnight, because they had to. Virtual hearings and ODR have opened up new possibilities that are not only keeping courts functioning during the pandemic, but also showing promise in helping resolve seemingly intractable access to justice issues.

Out of necessity in response to an unprecedented pandemic, courts are boldly embracing changes that are bringing more court processes into line with available technologies and public expectations. When the dangers of the COVID-19 virus have passed, courts anticipate a surge of filings. ODR and virtual hearings can “scale” to meet surges in demand in ways that traditional processes cannot.

This new openness, coupled with an understanding of the tsunami of legal issues that will hit the courts in coming months, has created an urgency on the part of courts to adjust processes and implement beneficial technologies now. At the center of this seismic shift are judges. Much has been written about court/legal technology from the perspective of technologists, legal aid organizations, court managers, etc. Almost nothing has been written to speak specifically to jurists. Judicial Perspectives is the JTC’s effort to address that gap because judges are key decision-makers in many jurisdictions, determining how technology will (or will not) be used to facilitate justice processes.

Judges function within an industry that prides itself on adhering to tradition, which can be an enormous obstacle to innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the “tipping point” that has forced US courts to embrace technologies they had previously shunned. Judicial Perspectives captures the experiences and observations of several remarkable jurists who have experienced the positive impacts of technology in dispute resolution, virtual hearings, and other court processes. These judges see pandemic-related adaptations as a launch-point for improvements that can last well beyond the immediate crisis. Speaking “judge to judge,” this paper advocates for leveraging technology to make permanent, transformational changes in justice processes.


The JTC was established more than 20 years ago by the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), the National Association for Court Management (NACM) and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and includes representatives from each of these organizations plus the Court Information Technology Officers Consortium (CITOC). The JTC’s charter is to improve the administration of justice through technology. Judicial Perspectives is one of seven papers released by the JTC so far in 2020. JTC members advise the technical writer, provide input, and review documents prior to publication.

Other recent JTC publications include Managing Evidence for Virtual Hearings, Getting Started with a Chatbot, Introduction to AI for Courts, and Cybersecurity Basics for Courts. For more information about the Joint Technology Committee, or to access other JTC whitepapers, go to https://www.ncsc.org/about-us/committees/joint-technology-committee.

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