We use cookies on this site to enable your digital experience. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our cookie policy. close

Maybe Virtual Reality Juries Can Facilitate Access To Justice

By Stephen Kane | December 16, 2018, 8:02 PM EST

Stephen Kane %>
Stephen Kane
A few weeks ago, I visited downtown Los Angeles’ new hot spot Two Bit Circus, a self-described micro-amusement park featuring VR rides and games. I flew like a pterodactyl (wind effects and everything), shot up aliens under a phenomenally beautiful night’s sky, and took a raft ride that actually felt something like a real raft ride. It was interesting and fun, but from my perspective as a first time user, virtual reality still has a little ways to go to feel "real." So it’s safe to say I didn’t react quite like Mark Zuckerberg did in 2014 when he tried Oculus Rift for the first time; he declared it “one of the coolest things … [he’d] ever seen,” and acquired it just a couple weeks later for $2 billion. Of course I also didn’t invent Facebook and don’t have $2 billion lying around.

Now, what I’m about to say next will forever brand me a legal tech geek (and proud of it) — throughout my visit, I couldn’t stop thinking about how exciting it would be to apply VR to law. For example, what if the courts leveraged it for jury duty by allowing jurors to serve remotely using Zuck’s technology? What would the implications be for efficiency, user experience, fairness and access to justice?

I think it could be major. More specifically, I imagine it could help expand access to justice by improving the cross-sectionality of our jury pools across key categories, e.g. race, age, professional background, and relevant life experience. The impact would be especially acute in areas that struggle to get representative participation. So this article will delve into some of those issues. But before we do that, for the sake of context and in case you haven’t served recently, let’s talk about what jury service looks like today.

Jury Service Today

"Law & Order" fans aside, nobody likes jury service (even if we consider it a patriotic duty, which most Americans do). And for good reason — it’s a terrible user experience on top of being an unpredictable disruption. And while courts have been working hard to improve that experience, it remains a pain for one simple reason: You have to do it in person outside of your daily routine. Let’s review some of the typical action steps:

  • Register by phone or the interwebs = not bad
    • And you can often reschedule with ease

  • Call in the night before to find out if you need to show up = slightly annoying but not terrible

  • Report to court in person when asked to do so = disruptive

  • Wait in a packed courtroom to see if you get called = boring :)

  • Get called in front of a judge and attorneys to answer questions = intimidating

  • Report for trial if selected = disruptive but somewhat interesting, possibly
    • Many states have one-day trials but some trials go longer = could be a while, but even a day is tough for most people to sacrifice since it means missing work or having to make other arrangements for kids, pets, other obligations etc.

  • Missing work and family obligations = no bueno, unless you want a break ;)

In today’s Amazon-Uber-Netflix world, that’s asking a lot. The question is: Can we deliver on our promise of justice but also improve the jury duty user experience so that jury pools are more representative? Let’s imagine what that might look like.

Jury Service Tomorrow

Here is what it might be like to serve on a jury in the future:

  • Register by phone or the interwebs = not bad
    • You would then receive a pair of VR goggles by mail, which you would need to return after all is said and done (and, in the meantime, could use to play games?!) The cost of doing this would be offset by major savings in overhead, e.g. courts would have less of a physical footprint and would need less staff to manage in-person jury selection, and tech costs go down over time.

  • Instead of having to go somewhere for jury selection, you could serve from the comfort of your home or office amid your daily routine = so much better
    • This is key since the biggest drag on jury duty is having to disrupt daily routines and show up in person.
    • If I were able to go to work from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and serve from 10 a.m. to noon, then again from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. before spending another couple hours at the office, that would certainly be an improvement. (This assumes I have a space to do it and that people don’t make fun of me to the point of humiliation.)

  • When it’s time for voir dire, you simply put your goggles on and away we go = kind of a cool experience actually (relatively speaking).

  • We could make everyone look the same, which would mitigate bias — this would be especially interesting for criminal trials.

  • Jurors would be able to interact with 3D evidence, e.g. visit a crime or auto accident scene in 3D VR.

Here are the potential benefits of a VR jury:

  • If there is less friction in the jury pool user experience, less people will avoid jury duty, and it might even be somewhat interesting and enjoyable.

  • This will lead to improved cross-sectionality since there is more supply to choose from, assuming lawyers on both sides effectively advocate for their clients.

  • VR certainly focuses attention — courts would be able to create their own custom environments that better highlight critical aspects of the trial.
    • This would lead to higher levels of engagement throughout the process.

  • The entire session would be recorded and searchable so jurors are able to refer back to specific portions of the trial and review evidence during deliberation.

  • All of these benefits ultimately improve access to justice for parties who depend on a jury of their peers to closely hear and consider evidence.

This proposal is far from complete and many details would need to be ironed out for it to actually work properly. In practice, perhaps some cases would make sense for VR while others would not; perhaps the best way to make that determination would be mock trial testing across various case types. (Law students, let’s do this!) Moreover, VR technology needs to get even more vivid for a juror to assess witnesses’ veracity remotely. But VR technology is improving rapidly so we may get there in a decade or less. Which means we need to start planning now.

After all, fun and games are great, but virtual reality in courts … now that’s exciting.

Stephen Kane is the founder and CEO of FairClaims, an online dispute resolution platform, and a fellow of Stanford CodeX Center for Legal Informatics. His previous work includes litigation associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, in-house at a communications company, small business attorney, and part of the early team at Lex Machina. Kane is also a founder, and chairs the board, of Los Angeles-based community development organization GRID110.

"Perspectives" is a regular feature written by guest authors on access to justice issues. To pitch article ideas, email expertanalysis@law360.com.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.