Georgetown Law Program Will Embed Technologists In Courts

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Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday announced the launch of a new fellowship that will embed technologists and software designers in state, local and tribal courts in order to develop tech-based solutions to improve access to the judicial system.

The Judicial Innovation Fellowship intends to gather a cohort of fellows and integrate them into courts throughout the country starting in September 2023, Georgetown Law said. The fellows will research pain points in court infrastructure that harms public legal access to the courts and craft new software addressing those issues.

"Technology innovation represents the most cost-effective, widely beneficial opportunity for courts to meet the needs of their 21st-century users," said Judge Jennifer Bailey of Florida's Eleventh Judicial Circuit, who will serve as an adviser for the program. "The Judicial Innovation Fellowship represents a real chance to move forward."

The new program will be led by Schmidt Innovation Fellow Jason Tashea and Georgetown Law professor and program co-founder Tanina Rostain. The fellowship is being funded by the New Venture Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts, and will be based in the Justice Lab at Georgetown University Law Center.

Fellows will seek to improve how the public interacts with the courts online, simplify particular processes like changing a court date, and address how courts collect and use data.

"The Judicial Innovation Fellowship program will be a catalyst for fundamental organizational and cultural changes in state, local and tribal courts to improve the civil and criminal systems," Rostain said in a statement on Tuesday. "Courts are foundational to the administration of law in our democratic system, but are failing users and the public every day."

In its announcement, the university noted that 55 million people experience 260 million civil legal problems in the U.S. each year, and 92% of low-income individuals' legal needs go inadequately met. Additionally, legal services organizations must turn away many qualified individuals due to a lack of capacity.

"As more and more people come to court without a lawyer, we, as court leaders, need smart, innovative solutions to improve how we interact with the public," Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack said in a statement Tuesday. "The Judicial Innovation Fellowship helps courts move toward a more innovative and equitable future."

Open applications for courts and fellows will begin early next year. The university will hold an information session for courts in January and a session for technologists and designers in February.

"The goal is not to incorporate technology into courts simply for technology's sake, but to embed technology and design into court administration and services to improve the ease with which users interact with courts, make courts more equitable and increase court transparency and accountability," Rostain said.

Other similar tech-driven initiatives this year include a partnership between pro bono management platform Paladin and case management company LegalServer with Legal Aid Chicago, the city's largest legal services organization.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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