Immersive Court Research

As part of a larger project to create better digital services for people using the civil justice system without lawyers, I led a major research project to understand the experience of ordinary Californians in the non-criminal courts. In the fall of 2018, our team visited 20 of the 58 county-level Superior Courts.

During each court visit, we used a mixed-methods approach to understanding the process:

  • we intercepted people waiting at court assistance centers and interviewed them
  • we shadowed “Self Help” assisters and filing clerks
  • we invited staff to meet us for tacos at lunchtime and asked about the pain points they see among self-represented court users.
  • we met with court leadership and learned about any data they had about digital access, language needs, and process challenges in the communities they serve.

At the end of each day, traveling team members met for initial synthesis and to talk over new themes. One night in my motel room, I drafted this diagram of the court process from a layperson’s perspective, which has informed much of our team’s further work on procedural content:

When we finished our research tour, we composed an extensive report with recommendations on how to design for self-represented court users. The report is unpublished, but contact me if you’re interested in it.