Justice Innovation

How can we make the civil justice system work better for people?

Stanford Legal Design Lab’s Justice Innovation project gathers the needs, ideas, and methods for improving how the legal system works & the impact it has on people.

The Legal Design Lab runs ongoing research, workshops, classes, and tech development on justice innovation. This site is made for people from courts, legal aid groups, foundations, universities, and community groups who are interested in a more human-centered justice system.

  

Our Current Justice Innovation Projects

The Legal Design Lab has been working over the past 10 years to improve the public’s access to legal help and the justice system, through improved designs, services, and tech.

Here are some of our new projects and our ongoing initiatives. We thank our court, legal aid, nonprofit, and government agency project partners, as well as our philanthropic funders like the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Hewlett Foundation for their support.

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Justice Technology projects at Legal Design Lab

Our Lab has worked on a range of justice tech projects, including text messaging, electronic court filing, legal help websites, and online court hearings. As of 2023, our Lab is focused on generative AI’s use in the justice system.

What are the opportunities & risks for AI in the justice system?

In our AI & Access to Justice initiative, our Lab is conducting user research, AI evaluation, and project development to advance responsible AI that can help the public with legal problems.

When a person is sued for an eviction or debt, when they need to file a restraining order, or they need to figure out child support, they need to find, fill out, and file court forms.

The Filing Fairness Project is modernizing the court user’s form and efiling journey through an ambitious multi-jurisdiction cohort.

How can legal organizations use texting to empower & connect with the public?

We have built Wise Messenger to allow courts and legal aid groups to remind people of court deadlines, conduct online intake, and coach people through long legal journeys.

The Legal Help Online Dashboard provides audits, rankings, templates, and guides to make excellent websites for legal aid, court, and other legal help groups.

We have made one-off legal help websites for Eviction FAQs, for courts’ self-help centers, and for legal aid groups.

As more court hearings have gone online, how do we ensure that people get transparent, accessible, equitable justice?

The Court Observation Hub offers a public repository of links to online remote proceedings and court observation groups.

We have made legal help websites for many courts, self help centers, and other groups.

Our team has developed the Navocado platform that lets us create highly visual online guides, including with timelines, FAQs, step-by-step pathways, and more.

For example see our website for Hamilton Couny, Ohio’s self-help center.

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Eviction and housing justice innovation projects at Legal Design Lab

Since 2018, the Lab has worked on eviction prevention and housing stability as a primary workstream. We have led R&D efforts with courts and city governments around the country, have built a national website with local housing rights, and led national cohorts to spread best practices.

How can we spread local best practices & innovations that can prevent evictions?

Working with the National League of Cities, we have led 3 national cohorts of city governments, courts, and legal aid groups. We have worked with them on improving eviction help, landlord engagement, and emergency rental assistance systems, helping over 35 cities. See the Eviction Prevention Learning Lab.

How can evictions be prevented, and the harms of forced displacement be mitigated?

On our Eviction Innovation webpage, we present a clearinghouse of services, technology, and policies that can address the eviction crisis. It features case studies, toolkits, and data sources.

How can people easily find correct, free information about their rights & rules when facing an eviction?

We built the Legal Help FAQ website during the Covid-19 pandemic, to provide state-by-state guidance on what the landlord-tenant laws, services, forms, and resources are for someone worried about eviction.

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Visual guides, documents, & communication projects at Legal Design Lab

The Legal Design Lab specializes in transforming complicated legal information into simple, user-friendly visuals. We have worked with courts and legal aid groups to make ‘know your rights’ explainers, official court summons and complaints, and step-by-step process guides.

What should court paperwork look like, that informs people about a lawsuit filed against them and their upcoming court date?
Our Lab has been working with courts and stakeholders across the country to design and pilot more effective, understandable, and actionable court summons.

Visual guides to legal processes and programs can empower people as they go through the system.

Court users often struggle with navigating the complex system. We have designed visual guides that can help a person know what to do at court, and how to follow the process.

Explore our visual guides here.

How can you make court forms that are user-friendly and efficient?

We have made a guide and rubric for evaluating your current court forms, and improving them to increase court users’ uptake and completion of them.

See this court form design guide here.

Top 8 Areas for Justice Innovation

What projects can make the justice system more accessible, equitable, and effective for people in a legal crisis?

These are the 8 target areas of innovation that our Lab believes can reduce the justice gap & improve people’s outcomes.

Read more about these 8 areas of work, and find out what you could be building or supporting.

Recent Posts

AI & Justice Workers

At the Arizona State University/American Bar Foundation conference on the Future of Justice Work, Margaret Hagan spoke on if and how generative AI might be part of new service and business models to serve people with legal problems. Many in the audience are already developing new staffing & service models, that combine traditional lawyer-provided services…

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User Persona Template

Is your team working on a legal innovation project, using a human-centered design approach? Then you are likely focused on different kinds of ‘users’, ‘stakeholders’, or ‘audience members’ as you plan out your innovation. Our Legal Design Lab team has a free Canva template to make your own user personas easily. This Canva template gives…

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Eviction diversion design workshop

Last week, Margaret Hagan traveled to Houston Texas for the National Center for State Court convening of Eviction Diversion Initiative facilitators. She ran a half day workshop on how to use human centered design to improve the program design, paperwork, and Service delivery of eviction diversion help at housing courts around the country. This Design…

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User Research Workshop on AI & A2J

In December 2023, our lab hosted a half-day workshop on AI for Legal Help. Our policy lab class of law students, master students, and undergraduates presented their user research findings from their September through December research. Our guests, including those from technology companies, universities, state bars, legal aid groups, community-based organizations, and advocacy/think takes, all…

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Filing Fairness Toolkit

The Stanford Legal Design Lab & the Rhode Center on the Legal Profession have just released the Filing Fairness Toolkit. The toolkit covers 4 areas, with diagnostics, maturity models, and actionable guidance for: improving Filing Technology Infrastructure building a healthy Filing Partner Ecosystem establishing good Technology Governance refining Forms & Filing Processes This Toolkit is…

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Guides for Justice Innovation

Stanford Legal Design Lab has guides, templates, and examples to help courts, government agencies, and legal aid teams improve their systems.
Use these resources to jumpstart your work making the legal system work better for people.

What are the projects, methods, outcomes, and research strategies about justice innovations? Our Reading List has a mixture of academic and practitioner articles to dive deep into doing innovation well, and building from past work.

Go to the Legal Design Lab Guide to creating great legal help websites on the Legal Help Online Dashboard. The Dashboard can help website admins, evaluators, authors, engineers, and designers.

Go to the Court Summons design guide to help your court or legal team create a document that will be supportive, accessible, and empowering.

Go to our User Testing Justice Innovation guide to find practical methods for getting community input into what you should build, how to build it, and whether it is working.

Explore datasets from courts, government agencies, social media, and beyond to use in developing new justice innovations.

Go to the Court Forms Evaluation & Redesign Guide to understand if your forms are user-friendly and effective, and how to make them work better for people.

What are Justice Innovations?

Justice innovations are programs, policies, technology, and infrastructure that can make a better, people-centered justice system. They increase the accessibility, equity, and social benefits of the justice system.

They reduce the justice gap that many people currently experience, where they cannot get advice, services, or guidance to resolve their civil and criminal legal problems — and thus face evictions, garnishments, money judgments, jail time, and insecurity.

Types of justice system innovation

Justice Innovations could be relatively small interventions, to change how court documents or legal aid explainers are designed. Or they could be large, systemic interventions like launching a new right to counsel, getting more funding for legal aid, or building new collaborative housing courts.

Read more about what interventions could improve the US justice system. Justice Innovations do not include just ‘technology’ interventions. They could be communications, services, products, technology, or policy interventions. This post walks through the pyramid illustration above, going through the different orders of design.

Why work on Justice Innovations?

A better justice system can improve people’s stability, mobility, and outcomes around housing, money, family, and employment.

We need human-centered justice systems that can respond to trends that are happening with our state courts, legal aid groups, and people’s needs.

  • Over 75% of people in civil state court matters don’t have a lawyer representing them. See this report from the National Center for State Courts.
  • Increased numbers of robo-filed lawsuits mean that more people are getting sued for debts that they may not even owe. See The Pew Charitable Trust’s report on the rise of robo-filing and the changing landscape of state courts.
  • People’s trust in state courts is declining. See the poll and survey results from the National Center for State Courts‘ State of the State Courts.

Researchers and practitioners have identified many breakdowns in the US’ civil legal system:

Low Awareness of legal issues, services, and the court system.
How can we make people more aware of the services that can help them with the difficulties they’re having with their housing, debts, family, and other problems?
How can we increase the uptake of free and affordable services to help resolve these problems?

Low Participation rates in court cases, especially for housing and money problems.
This problem is often phrased in terms of “high default rates”. When a person doesn’t participate in a court case, they face big penalties when they lose by default, including their wages being garnished, sheriffs setting them out from their home, warrants for their arrest, or other life-changing penalties.

High Failure rates in people’s ability to present their information, stories, and claims to the court in a way that meets the court’s (or individual judge’s) standards.
This occurs with people’s inability to correctly file motions and other paperwork with courts, their inability to present claims and stories at court hearings, and their inability to deal with the other party’s requests and claims.

High rates of unequal settlements and court decisions, in which people who don’t have lawyers are getting court outcomes that have unfavorable terms — compared to people & companies who do have lawyers.
How do we make sure that all people have the law applied fairly to their situation, even if they cannot afford a lawyer to represent them?

High variability rates in court & judges’ decisions, including about how they apply the law, how they run their courtroom, and how they interact with people who don’t have a lawyer.
How do we ensure that there is consistent & equitable application of the law to people’s situations? How do we ensure that all judges and court officers are following the law & court rules, especially in regard to people who do not have a lawyer?

Growing distrust in courts among people, with surveys showing that more people have lower levels of confidence in the US justice system and state courts.
How do we increase procedural and substantive justice in the courts, and strengthen the relationships between people and the justice system (and broader government institutions)?

Justice Journey
When a person has a problem with their housing, finances, work, or family, they might seek legal help & go on a ‘justice journey’ to protect their rights and resolve their problem. But many aren’t able to get help or navigate this process.

The Stanford Legal Design Lab works on improving the civil justice system, in order to improve people’s housing, finances, and family.

Are people able to use the legal system to protect their rights, resolve their problems, and achieve greater stability?

The Legal Design Lab focuses on Justice Innovation to impact 4 outcomes: people’s stability and security, their empowerment in legal and government systems, their legal capability, and the quality of justice they receive.

Impact 1:
Increase People’s Housing, Financial & Social Stability

When a person has a legal problem, they’re at risk of a single issue spiraling into a life crisis that can lead to more poverty and inequality.

An eviction lawsuit, debt collection action, domestic violence incident, or traffic ticket can destabilize a person & their family.

Justice innovations can help resolve these problems and prevent the problem from spiraling into major life crises.

These innovations can increase problem resolution, and improve housing, family, financial, and educational outcomes.

Impact 2:
Empower People to Use Their Rights & Participate in Justice

People often don’t participate in the civil justice system, even when they have protections & defenses.

When a person doesn’t show up to court or answer a lawsuit, they’re at risk of big consequences like money judgments, wage garnishments, loss of home, and bench warrants.

Justice innovations can help them use the legal system to assert their rights to protect their money, housing, family, and safety.

Innovations can decrease default judgments, increase uptake of services, and increase the assertion of rights.

Impact 3
Build People’s Legal Capability and Equitable Access

Many people don’t feel they’re able to use the legal system, and can’t afford to hire a lawyer to help them navigate it. Justice innovations can build people’s knowledge about what legal rules & options apply to them.

Innovations can increase their ability to make strategic decisions.

Innovations can give more people more confidence that they can use the system — that they are capable of engaging with the system. This is particularly important to include historically excluded groups in the justice system, so they can use it equally.

Impact 4:
Improve the Quality of Justice People Receive

Even if people do engage with the justice system, they might not have just experiences or outcomes. Justice innovations can increase procedural justice and substantive justice.

For procedural justice, innovations can make the system more transparent, trustworthy, and responsive to people.

For substantive justice, innovations can ensure that the law is fairly applied to a person’s situation.

What are the best ways to prevent evictions? Explore Eviction Innovations to find the best strategies.

Our Lab runs the Eviction Innovation website & leads national networks on eviction prevention along with the National League of Cities.

If you are focused on housing-related justice innovations, the Eviction Innovation site has guidance, resources, and data to help.

Come explore ways that courts, legal aid groups, city governments, and others can prevent evictions.

How can we make the legal system more accessible, user-friendly & just?

This is a project of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School.

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