We have summarized the best thinking of nearly 1,400 court professionals who reviewed 186 different scenarios of possible futures.1 This report highlights 2019 assessments and focuses on the responses of NACM members, comparing their assessments with those of the overall group.
Eight surveys conducted over seven years have sought to answer, “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 likelihood assessments are categorized as Highly Likely—1.0 to 1.9; Likely—2.0 to 2.4; Maybe (50-50 Chance)—2.5 to 2.9; Unlikely—3.0 to 3.4; or Improbable—3.5 and higher.
For an in-depth
look at many scenarios, we invite you to visit https://www.Courtleader.net. This
site, hosted by Janet Cornell, is where you can find several “thought pieces”
on the CourtFutures webpage. You may request a full set of survey results
by emailing us at CourtFutures@gmail.com.
No. 10: Courts Are Confronted by Ever-Increasing Cultural Challenges
Courts are faced with continuing diversity challenges, both by the customers they serve and in the workforce they employ. Differences in gender, ethnicity, religious perspectives, and opinions of work/life balance challenge all organizations, including courts. The 2017 survey included a scenario that courts will face ever-increasing cultural and linguistic challenges. It was assessed as Highly Likely with a 1.7 average probability. The 2019 survey contains separate scenarios, one on cultural challenges and one on linguistic challenges.
|Courts Are Confronted by Ever-Increasing|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 1.6 probability; NACM members also assessed this scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.6 likelihood.
No. 9: Courts Are Confronted by Increasing Linguistic Challenges
Courts are also faced with an expanding array of linguistic challenges, including languages of lesser diffusion and tribal dialects. As mentioned in the No. 10 highlight, this is a separate scenario on linguistic challenges.
|Courts Are Confronted by Increasing Linguistic Challenges||Highly Likely|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 1.7 probability; NACM members also assessed this scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.7 likelihood.
No. 8: Courts Develop Online Individual Learning Modules to Train New Employees
The concept of individualized online learning, also known as “eLearning,” began to appear around 1999. Now we see an array of eLearning tools, including intelligent assistants (sometimes called “chatbots”), interactive video-based learning, micro-courses, customized learning modules, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). eLearning can reduce training costs, and employees can access eLearning on their schedule rather than conforming to set classes.
|Courts Develop Online Individual Learning Modules to Train New Employees||Highly Likely|
NACM members agreed with the overall group. Both assessed this scenario as Highly Likely with a 1.7 average likelihood of occurring within the next ten years.
No. 7: Court Computer Systems Are Hacked
Ransomware, malware, viruses, denials of service (DOS), phishing, and eavesdropping (surreptitiously looking for website data) are all ways of hacking into computer systems, including court databases. The need for computer security is growing exponentially. The scenario “Court Computer Systems Are Compromised” was first surveyed in the summer of 2013 and assessed as Likely with a 2.2 average probability. The 2019 scenario is titled “Court Computer Systems Are Hacked.”
|Court Computer Systems Are Hacked||Likely|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 2.0 probability; however, NACM members assessed it as Highly Likely with a 1.9 likelihood.
No. 6: Problem-Solving Drug Courts Scale to Address the Opioid Crisis
Notwithstanding their reputation for running smaller dockets handling dozens of participants, respondents thought drug courts will scale up to meet the challenge of the opioid epidemic as the opioid crisis involves thousands.
|Problem-Solving Drug Courts Expand to Address the Opioid Crisis||Highly Likely|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 1.8 likelihood; NACM members largely agreed, assessing it as Highly Likely with a 1.9 probability of occurring within the next ten years.
No. 5: Social Media Remains an Ancillary Way Court Leadership Communicates with Staff
Despite social media being fast, low cost, easy to use, and easy to maintain, most respondents thought it unlikely for Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to become the preferred way court leadership would communicate with court staff.
|Social Media Becomes the Main Way Court Leadership Communicates with Staff||Unlikely|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 3.2 probability; NACM members largely agreed, assessing it as Unlikely with a 3.3 likelihood.
No. 4: Older Workers Continue Working, Hindering Younger Employee Advancement
Older workers remain working into their later years. This can be because older workers may remain unemployed longer after leaving a job, and when they do find work it is often for less pay.2 Many younger employees expect older workers to retire, to avoid overusing shared resources like health care, and to steer clear of youth-oriented popular trends such as social-media sites.3
|Older Employees Continue Working, Hindering Advancement of Younger Employees||Likely|
NACM members and the overall group agreed, both assessing the scenario as Likely with a 2.3 probability.
No. 3: Self-Driving Vehicles Remain Scarce
For a couple years now, the literature has predicted we are on the cusp of the self-driving vehicle revolution, led by Elon Musk and the Tesla Corporation. Despite the publicity, responses to the 2015 survey assessed the likelihood of regularly seeing self-driving vehicles on the road within the next few years as Unlikely, with a 3.2 average probability. In 2018 respondents assessed the scenario as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.8 probability.
|Self-Driving Vehicles Are Commonplace||Maybe|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 2.8 probability; NACM members largely agreed assessing it as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.7 likelihood.
No. 2: Cannabis Becomes Commonplace
Most states now recognize either medical or recreational use of marijuana as legal. Only South Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho still classify simple possession as a crime. The spring 2013 survey assessed the scenario “Medical Marijuana Will Be Legal” as Likely with a 2.3 average probability. The 2014 survey assessed it as Likely with a 2.2 average probability within the next ten years.
|Marijuana Will Be Legal||Highly Likely|
Overall, this scenario was assessed as a 1.8 probability; NACM members largely agreed assessing it as Highly Likely with a 1.7 probability.
No. 1: Skepticism Persists About Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assisting Judges
Despite numerous articles on how artificial intelligence can help judges with decision making, particularly in sentencing and pretrial release, survey respondents remain uncertain if AI will be accepted. The winter 2015 survey assessed this scenario as being Unlikely with a 3.3 average probability.
|Applications Aid in Judicial Decision Making||Maybe|
The overall group assessed this scenario as having a 2.8 probability; NACM members assessed it as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.6 probability.
We are gearing up for our 2020 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Phillip Knox (ret.) previously served as 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 latest 2019 survey received 398 responses—216 were NACM members.
- AARP and Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School in New York, March 13, 2017.
- Michael North, “Young Workers Expect Their Older Colleagues to Get Out of the Way,” The Conversation (March 9, 2017).