We have summarized the best thinking of over 1,5001 court professionals who have reviewed 201 different scenarios of possible futures. This report highlights the 2020 assessments and focuses on the responses of NACM members, comparing their assessments with those of the overall group. Events of this year have challenged all us, including our own ability to keep up with current issues faced by our courts. Responses to this survey were returned before the full impact of the Coronavirus became known. We compiled the results during the first quarter of the year as the country and the world were realizing the depths of these effects.
We are encouraged by the relevance of the survey questions and how the survey manages to assess and predict change, as some scenarios have tracked events we now face because of the pandemic’s influence. Of interest are scenarios related to remote hearings, distance learning, and online dispute resolution.
The nine surveys conducted over eight years have sought to answer the question, What is the most likely future for courts? By assessing the probability of various scenarios occurring within the next ten years and then averaging those results, we have developed estimates of what the future might hold for courts. The assessments averaging from 1.0 to 1.9 are labeled Highly Likely; 2.0 to 2.4, Likely; 2.5 to 2.9, Maybe (50-50 Chance); 3.0 to 3.4, Unlikely; and 3.5 and higher, Improbable.
For an in-depth look at many scenarios, we invite you to go to the courtleader.net website. Janet Cornell hosts the site, where we have posted several “thought pieces” on the CourtFutures webpage. You can request a full set of survey results by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 10: Most Court Hearings Are Conducted Remotely
This trend shows how quickly circumstances can change. In 2013, 2014, and January 2020 we asked about the probability that most court hearings would be held through remote recorded conferencing, wherein parties physically present in courtrooms would be the exception and not the rule. The scenario assessed each time as having only a 50-50 Chance. In six short months, courts now routinely hold virtual hearings.
|Most Court Hearings Are Conducted Remotely||Maybe|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 2.6 probability; NACM members also assessed this scenario as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.7 likelihood.
The survey has never asked respondents to assess the probability of teleworking becoming routine in courts. (This scenario will be in the 2021 survey.) Two scenarios came close:
- In 2013 respondents assessed the probability that Alternative Work Schedules Would Become the Norm as Likely with a 2.4 mean overall average.
- In 2013 and 2014 respondents assessed the probability that Sophisticated Tasks Would Be Outsourced to Professionals, Many of Whom Would Work Part-Time from Their Homes. Both times the scenario was assessed as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.9 mean overall average in 2013 and a 2.6 mean overall average in 2014.
No. 9: Courts Offer Their Training Through Distance Learning
Most staff training is offered through webinars, videos, downloadable PowerPoints, etc. In 2013 respondents assessed this scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.6 probability.
|Courts Offer Their Training Through Distance Learning Have||Highly Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed, both assessing the scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.6 probability.
In 2019 respondents assessed the likelihood that Courts Would Develop Online Individual Learning Modules to Train New Employees as Highly Likely with a 1.7 probability.
No. 8: Ransomware Attacks on Court Computer Systems Become Routine
Ransomware attacks become common against court computer systems, as well as against city and county computer systems courts use. Ransomware terrorists often target smaller jurisdictions because they do not have the financial resources to install the expensive cybersecurity safeguards.
|Ransomware Attacks on Court Computer Systems Become Routine Have||Likely|
NACM and the overall group agreed; both assessed this scenario as Likely with a 2.0 average likelihood.
No. 7: Courts Secure Their Systems and Data Against Malicious Attacks
Responding to widespread ransomware attacks, viruses, and data hacks, courts manage to secure their critical systems and data against malicious attack and theft.
|Courts Secure Their Systems and Data Against Malicious Attacks||Highly Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed; both assessed the scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.8 probability.
No. 6: Therapeutic and Problem-Solving Courts Abound
The success of, and demand for, therapeutic and problem-solving courts has grown exponentially. Courts throughout the country run an array of therapeutic and problem-solving courts addressing issues ranging from drug addiction and drunk driving, to gambling, petty theft, and family/household members not meeting their obligations. This scenario was first run in the spring of 2013 survey under the title “Specialty Problem-Solving Courts Abound” and assessed at that time as Likely with a 2.2 average probability.
|Therapeutic and Problem-Solving Courts Abound||Highly Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed, both assessed the scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.6 probability.
No. 5: The Gap Between Urban and Rural Courts Widens
The resources and services gap between urban and rural courts widens. Rural courts must continue to “catch up” to enjoy technological innovations. This scenario was first surveyed in the spring of 2013 and assessed as Likely with a 2.4 average probability. It was run again is the winter of 2017 and assessed as Likely with a 2.4 average probability.
|The Gap Between Urban and Rural Courts Widens||Likely|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 2.3 probability; NACM members largely agreed, assessing it as Likely with a 2.2 likelihood.
No. 4: Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) Assist Court Customers
Jurisdictions across the country permit LLLTs to advise and assist court customers going through a divorce, child custody, family law, probate, and some civil matters. In some courts, they are referred to a “Legal Technicians” or “Legal Navigators.”
|Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) Assist Court Customers||Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed; both assessed the scenario as Likely with a 2.3 probability.
No. 3: States Adopt Uniform Standards for Dealing with Self-Represented Litigants
Uniform standards will include access to forms, interpreters, and procedural information. This scenario was first run in the spring of 2013 survey and was assessed as Likely with a 2.2 average probability.
|States Adopt Uniform Standards for with Dealing Self-Represented Litigants||Likely|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 2.2 probability; NACM members largely agreed, assessing it as Likely with a 2.3 likelihood.
No. 2: Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Becomes the Norm for Courts
Courts incorporate ODR programs to resolve disputes without the parties having to physically come to the courthouse.
|Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Becomes the Norm for Courts||Likely|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 2.4 probability; NACM members largely agreed, assessing it as Likely with a 2.3 probability.
No. 1: Most Courts Maintain Their Records in the Cloud (or Its Successor)
Some form of off-site data storage (known as Cloud Storage in 2018) run by organizations dedicated to managing electronic data constitutes the primary storage solution for courts. This scenario was first surveyed in winter 2018 and assessed as Likely with a 2.0 average probability.
|Most Courts Maintain Their Records in the Cloud (or Its Successor)||Highly Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed; both assessed the scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.9 probability.
We are gearing up for our 2021 survey and want to hear what you think we should ask. Also, let us know of anyone who might be interested in participating in the next survey. Email your suggestions to email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Phillip Knox (ret.) previously served the general jurisdiction courts administrator for the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County.
Peter C. Kiefer has spent over four decades working for the courts in Oregon, California, and Arizona, as well as on rule-of-law projects in Liberia, Moldova, and Beirut.
- The spring 2013 survey received 232 responses, 70 were from NACM members; the summer 2013 survey received 212 responses, 67 were NACM members; the 2014 survey received 510 responses, 120 were NACM members; the 2015 survey received 493 responses, 137 were NACM members; the 2016 survey received 369 responses, 119 were NACM members; the 2017 survey received 391 responses, 132 were NACM members; the 2018 survey received 352 responses, 155 were NACM members; the 2019 survey received 398 responses, 216 were NACM members; the latest 2020 survey received 412 responses, 238 were NACM members.