ATJ Guide for Managers

This guide contains a checklist for implementers of the Access to Justice Principles. Technology changes frequently. Each year brings new surprises and opportunities for leveraging technology to increase access to justice. Unfortunately one of the consequences of this is that best practices, standards, and implementation advice quickly grow obsolete. This guide, therefore, does not attempt to provide concrete answers to implementation, but directs the reader to ask the right questions and steers the reader to resources and practice groups where answers will updated with technology.

 

Because this guide is focused on planning, project managers and enterprise architects employed by the courts may find it more useful than the Guide for Developers.

 

The guide is available for download in PDF format here.

The First Principle: Access to Justice
Access to Justice: The first principle is a “first, do no harm” precept. The intent is to promote the use of technology to advance access whenever possible. For many, technology can be the first obstacle in their search for justice. The first Principle acknowledges this and aspires for the opposite: technology must promote access to and participation in the justice system. As part of compliance with the first Principle, consider the following suggestions when designing or evaluating a technology project.

Does the project provide the most relevant content?
Studies show that content, the information provided by your product, is the most critical element of success. Other studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. Search for opportunities to provide the most relevant data to your users.

Have users been identified with sufficient specificity?
Consider the entire population to be served by your project, including special needs populations such as economic, age, cultural, language, geographic, persons with disabilities, persons without internet access, et al. Obtain and collect demographic data and then review to identify special needs in your jurisdiction, such as alternate language options. In 2011, 17.8% of Washington State’s population (age 5+) spoke a language other than English at home! Consider including some of the following groups in addition to actual users of your project: anyone who benefits from the system indirectly, anyone involved in regulation of the system, anyone responsible for systems which interface with your system, anyone directly opposed to the system.
Resources: Demographic data on the public is available by county or by city from the US Census on their website www.census.gov. A mobile app is also available. For projects internal to the justice system, consider the list of stakeholders including in the addendum.

Are there financial barriers for any users?
Consider whether your project will charge the target demographic for use of the project. If fees will be charged to the user, devise and incorporate a simple process for waiving the fee in appropriate circumstances. In 2006, 11.9% of Washington residents lived in poverty, with another 7.9% between 100% and 149% of the poverty line. Fees for court services represent a much larger portion of an impoverished family’s budget, and reduce access to justice. If possible, create a fee waiver process to reduce barriers for low-income families.
Resources: Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services collects the latest reports at http://www.dshs.wa.gov/rda/.

How are costs being evaluated?
Costs must be considered in any project. Consider not only the costs to users, i.e. the final price the user must pay, but also costs which the justice system must incur. If the costs are unknown, or are untraceable to their source, or are simply too high, it is a problem. Also worth considering are opportunity costs: if resources are spent on this project, they will not be available for other projects which may be worthy.

How is project performance being measured?
Performance can be difficult to measure. Possible measures of performance, or metrics, include time, cost, resources, scope, quality, and actions. Performance can be measured in terms of throughput (the average amount of work/cases completed over a period of time) or response times (the average delay between contact and response). Be cautious with using only numerical or measurable metrics, as the success or failure of a project in terms of its benefit to access to justice may only be loosely tied to pure numbers.

Can effort expended on another project be used for this project or vice-versa?
Quite often the time and effort invested into one project may be recycled and applied against a new project. There may be ways to use your current project in an unexpected way or in a new market. Likewise, once a user base has been established for your current project, their needs will be better known, enabling you to find or develop other projects targeting them.
Resources: Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a framework for communicating its proposed, ongoing, and completed projects at http://www.courts.wa.gov/jis/?fa=jis.itGovernance. The Legal Resources Corporation offers technology assistance to its grantees, the resources its offers should helpful as well: http://tig.lsc.gov/resources/grantee-resources.

The Second Principle: Justice in Process
Justice in Process: Process is integral to a just result. A just process requires well-informed and impartial decision-makers; technology used in the justice system must serve this goal.

Have you included information about the context surrounding your particular project to the user?
Users may not enter the justice system’s technology systems in a linear fashion; i.e. starting with a roadmap of what forms and services they need. Never miss an opportunity to show the user the context of where your project fits into the justice process.

Have you included references for additional legal information in your project?
Resources for free, substantive legal information are not centralized in our state; users may find it beneficial for additional resources to be pointed out for them. As a starting point, offer contact information for local legal services offices or other providers participating in the www.LawHelp.org. Alternatively or concurrently, coordinate with the state bar association’s public legal education section or similar group that provides the public with information on law, including local law, and government resources. Our state has many innovative organizations dedicated to expanding access to justice; cross-advertising ensures individuals have the opportunity to use them.

Does your project comply with the administrative needs and requirements currently in place?
Consider, for example, an e-filing system for court documents. If copies are required to be forwarded to a judge upon a form being filed with the court, make sure the system enables this. Work with support staff and judicial decision-makers to develop procedures and protocols that identify what should go to the judicial decision-maker and in what format it needs to go; ask for feedback from judicial decision-maker on how well the process is working; provide a method that ensures appropriate and timely action by judicial decision-makers (e.g., reminders; designation of “court’s action required” on appropriate documents); provide a method that ensures appropriate and timely action by support staff (e.g., reminders; a log of task accomplishment when there has been a designation of “clerk’s action required” on appropriate documents, etc.).

Does the project serve the public’s right to view the inner workings of the judicial system?
Identify relevant court rules, statutes, case law, orders and procedures. This may include evidentiary rules, rules of discovery, or freedom of information act requests. By a variety of methods and in a variety of places, provide understandable information, education and instructions to the public demonstrating and explaining their legal rights, opportunities and responsibilities, and the procedures they must follow both to access court information.

The Third Principle: Openness and Privacy
Openness and Privacy: balancing transparency and privacy concerns. Technology in the justice system must be designed and used to meet the dual responsibilities of being transparent to the public while protecting personal privacy and the safety of all justice system participants.

What are the legal requirements applicable to your project data?
Consult with legal staff and records specialists as necessary to ensure that legal rules, statues, case law and other provisions regarding confidential or open records are understood and complied with. If rules or policies are not in place, initiate and bring to a decision a process for determining the policies that will apply to the system.

Does your project actively effectuate and preserve the privacy rights of users and other stakeholders?
Ensure that no one surrenders personal privacy rights because of a justice system technology project. Determine what information should not be accessible to the public and what information is accessible to the public only by specific court order or action. Collect and list the areas in the project containing personally identifiable information. Provide easily accessible and understandable information, education and instructions to the public and all other potential users demonstrating and explaining their legal rights, opportunities and responsibilities, and the procedures they must follow both to effectuate and preserve their privacy rights.
Resources: For a model privacy policy, click here.

The Fourth Principle: Assuring a Neutral Forum
Assuring a Neutral Forum: Technology should not determine forum. The justice system must ensure access to neutral and transparent forums regardless of changes in technology.

Will requirements of your project incentivize use of one justice service (e.g. Alternative Dispute Resolution) over other?
Ensure that technology requirements don’t make your project cost or time prohibitive to the user. Establish operational rules and processes that ensure equitability of filing time frames for both paper and electronic filing. Establish operational rules and processes to provide case documents and files in a consistent format.

The Fifth Principle: Awareness and Use
Awareness and Use: For justice to be accessible, the public must know of the tools to access it. The justice system must promote public knowledge and understanding of technology tools produced to enhance access to justice.

Have you developed a plan for informing your user base about the existence of your project?
Meet your users where they are, not where you want them to be. If your user base is small (e.g. a project that serves county-wide judges and staff only) consider meeting with them personally to introduce your project and to hear their concerns and suggestions. For new or ground-breaking projects, consider a pilot or phased approach that will allow incremental exposure and gradually develop users’ comfort level. If circumstances do not warrant the personal approach, use a variety of marketing to get the word out about your project. Marketing tools might include court publications, community newsletters, multimedia public service announcements, and social media. For smaller projects, consider posting notices to areas where users congregate.
Resources: A common way of increasing visibility of web-based projects is search engine optimization. For an introduction to the topic, read Google’s Webmaster tutorial on search engine optimization here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35291. For a model Social Media Policy, click here.

How much detail about your project is available to interested users?
Ensure that the information available in marketing material or public addresses explains the services available, how to obtain and use them, and addresses potential concerns, including security, privacy, fee waivers and timing.

Has your target user base been identified with sufficient specificity?
Demographic and socio-economic groupings are not granular enough targets to be effective for marketing. When identifying the user base, ask who the message is for: the user, or the users’ clients, or the users’ support staff? What is the profile of the user? Relevant identifying factors include age, gender, income, location, language, network, job-type, education level, wealth, access to communication channels, and comfort level with technology. Consider making some “ideal” customer profiles that describe your target users and target relevant parts of their behavior.
Resources: For an introduction on how to target your users, start with Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audience_segmentation. The Strategic Content Alliance has published useful guides and tools for audience research and engagement, available online here: http://sca.jiscinvolve.org/wp/allpublications/audience-publications/.

How is your message framed?
Studies into the effectiveness of message framing have shown that the effectiveness of the messaging can significantly depend on which of these frames are used and when they are used. Gain-framed appeals work better with those who tend to be promotion-oriented, while loss-framed appeals work better with those who tend to be prevention-oriented.
Resources: For more information about message framing, and its potential applicability to your project, consider reading The Strategic Use of Gain- and Loss-Framed Messages to Promote Healthy Behavior: How Theory Can Inform Practice.

Is your project part of an existing brand?
Branding is not often thought of in the justice system, but people trust brands with an established reputation for service. Brands have graphics associated with them that allow users to recognize the service or product that they had a good experience with in the past. Not only does this provide an advantage for the user by allowing her to spot a previously used service easily, it also allows for the more efficient use of government resources by re-use of artwork and messaging resources from previous communications.
Resources: A complete branding campaign is difficult, particularly for public sector entities, which face different challenges from those in the private sector. No definitive guide exists at this time.

Would a partnership be appropriate for marketing your project?
If your target users are associated with a particular place or group, consider a partnership for marketing purposes. A partnership can make your project more available and accessible to a larger audience by leveraging the partner’s assets, for example by showcasing your project online, placing your project’s forms at their location, or using their mailing list. Consider libraries, community centers, city halls, ethnic centers, and continuing legal education classes as potential partners.

Have objectives been set by which marketing success can be measured?
Consider launching your marketing efforts in phases. This way, the success of the marketing plan can be evaluated as it progresses and revised if necessary. Seek input from target audience members or representatives on relevant messaging material, timing, and delivery.

The Sixth Principle: Best Practices
Best Practices: Best practices make the best policy. Best practices are the methods and processes which technology practitioners have found to be most effective over time. They grant both practical knowledge and further inspiration for technological tools. Best practices can be a data point in the evaluation of our use of technology in light of the values and objectives of the ATJ principles.

Does the project have team members experienced in implementing best practices or integrating them into legacy systems?
High level concerns like choice of vendor, hiring, and budgeting arguably have a bigger influence on results than individual decisions over implementation. Ensure that these high-level decisions are guided by the Principals.
Resources: A general guide to a broad array of justice-related best practices can be found at http://lsntap.org/tech-library.

Have you made the practices used in your project publicly available for other technology users in the court system?
Some projects, particularly cutting edge ones, can advance the field simply by posting their practices to an accessible place. This gives others innovators a foundation to work from. Standing on the shoulders of giants, one may see far.
Resources: Visit http://www.ncsc.org/atj, the website of the National Council of State Courts, to see ongoing projects in Access to Justice across the nation. There, one may find useful information on topics ranging from user-friend e-filing to using technology to support self-represented litigants.