Class Blog Project updates

Brainstorming new Language Access self help ideas

Brainstorming Potential Solutions in the Design for Justice Class: Language Access (Week 3)

By Sahil Chopra

Having experienced the court first hand, we returned to the classroom to revisit the tenets of Design Thinking and coalesce our thoughts, before engaging in a productive, rapid-brainstorming session.

Here’s a quick reminder of 5 “tenets” behind the design philosophies that drove our brainstorming:

  1. There is no “one perfect idea”. In fact, it is quite limiting to focus on “quality” ideas, i.e. those that seem practical or reasonable. In this initial phase of brainstorming, you should let your imagination roam free. You might be surprised by the ways you can turn an unreasonable idea into a truly impactful one.
  2. Don’t judge others. You can only be truly collaborative and helpful if you reserve judgement upon others’ ideas. Don’t analyze. Don’t constrain. Don’t judge.
  3. Be concise and specific. Yes, we all want to help provide language access to millions of Californians; but ideas won’t get us all the way there. In order to brainstorm effectively, you have to think “physical”, i.e. what could you make or build in an ideal world. Don’t think in abstractions but realities.
  4. Always respond to ideas with the phrase “yes and”. Saying “no” and “yes but” are conversation killers. Even if you don’t totally agree with an idea, embrace it and try to add your own spin to it, building upon it by saying “yes and”.
  5. Go for wild, ambitious, and impossible. Think big! We can always scale back later.

With these principles in mind, we drew upon our observations of the prior week to develop a list of current positives and negatives with language access at the court. We then brainstormed a list of potential successes and pitfalls, we might face while trying to improve language access.

Current Positives

  • Empathy: Sitting in on family court trials and observing the interactions between court staff and clients, it was apparent that those who work at the courthouse truly care. They are overwhelmed and understaffed, but they truly believe in the work and are trying their best to service the hundreds of clients that walk through the door each day.
  • Pathfinding: Signage was plentiful, though it could be improved by providing multilingual queues. The docket system, hosted on the large vertical flat screens, was especially useful in orienting oneself as they entered the courthouse.

Current Negatives

  • Form Accessibility: It’s often difficult to know what pieces of ancillary information are needed to fill out the form, which sections pertain to you personally, etc. There are workshops to help people fill out the forms, but they are understaffed; and the videos shown as part of the divorce workshop we observed weren’t entirely helpful, as they did not actually walk through the forms themselves.
  • Waiting: People line up in the self-help queue starting at 7:00 am, even though the service starts helping individuals at 9:00 am. The wait times are long.
  • Language: Many people who don’t speak English bring translators, but these must be 18+-year-olds; and involving someone else in the legal process implies that translator must also leave work, skip school, etc.

Future Positives (Ideas)

  • Real-Time Translation
  • Human-Oriented Experiences
  • Space Optimization (Court House)
  • Efficiency (Simplify Forms, Reduce Lines, etc.)

Future Negatives (Considerations)

  • Litigation
  • Budget Cuts / Restrictions
  • Buy-In: Unions, Staff, Judges, Clients

With these themes established, we brainstormed the following 10 ideas:

  1. Interactive Forms
    1. Concept: Make forms interactive on a website such that they become “choose-your-own-adventure.” Use simple questions written in the person’s native language to determine which portions of the form are necessary for the individual to actually fill out.
    2. Goal: This should make form-filling a more accessible and personalized experience. Hopefully, this makes the process for filing easier and less intimidating.
  2. Multilingual FAQs
    1. Concept: Update the court’s website with FAQs in various languages. Prospective users could read these FAQs for their specific problem before coming to the court itself, so that they have a better understanding of the court process for their issue before coming in. Similarly, these could be provided to those in the self-help line to read before they are served.
    2. Goal: This will improve understanding of the court processes in order to empower individuals with a sense of control.
  3. Multilingual Court Navigation Instructions
    1. Concept: Create an app or website, with top 5 languages spoken by LEP court users, that explains court layout, functions and services at each office, and language support services.
    2. Goal: The user can find answers to common questions on their phone and use it to navigate the courthouse and its services. This will save headaches about what they need to do to get from Point A to point B, both in terms of navigating the courthouse and its services and help customers more easily address their legal needs.
  4. Online Multilingual Workshop Videos
    1. Concept: Provide client with multilingual YouTube videos explaining the mechanics of different common problems (e.g. divorce) that people go to the court to address.
    2. Goal: Right now the videos are only in English and only viewable in the workshop. This poses double issues for accessibility of content. Multilingual YouTube videos may reduce the burden on the workshop staff and provide a better, informative experience to non-native speakers.
  5. Chunk Workshop Video Into Sections
    1. Concept: Split workshop videos into chunks rather than the current 45-minute video. Also, integrate the form-filling within the video watching experience. Rather than a presentation, the workshop videos should directly help the users fill out the necessary and related components of their paperwork.
    2. Goal: Currently, the videos are an information overload. Many definitions are not listed on the slides. Viewers cannot rewind the video in the workshop. And the video does not directly correspond to sections of the forms that the users have to fill out. Eliminate all these problems by providing information in nugget-sized-proportions and tightly coupling this video experience with the forms.
  6. NLT for Court Forms
    1. Concept: Integrate the web forms with Google Translate, or some other legal translation software.
    2. Goal: All forms must be submitted in English according to California State Law. Even if the forms are presented in Spanish, the user must respond in English — which poses a huge barrier without an interpreter. Instead, bring Natural Language Translation (NLT) systems to the user, so this form-filling process becomes much easier.
  7. Symbolic Signage at Court
    1. Concept: Replace English signs in help center with symbol-rich signs that are easier to understand and follow.
    2. Goal: Symbol-rich signs will be able to better direct court users to get the forms they need and access the services they require. This will improve the physical experience of navigating the courthouse.
  8. Brochure Placement
    1. Concept: Redesign help center brochures to be color coded according to languages and then placed in different sections of the room, according to language.
    2. Goal: By offering forms in both languages, court users can identify the right forms and will be able to understand them. They can then write their answers on the corresponding English language forms.
  9. Robotic Assistants
    1. Concept: Create mobile booths in different areas where people could lodge cases in their languages by speaking into a phone line which will then capture the information and translate it into English. The robotic booth will then print the documents which the user can scan and download through the mobile application.
    2. Goal: Reduce trauma and negative attitudes towards the court system by promoting privacy of individuals coming to court.
  10. Real Time Translation Services
    1. Concept: Have tablets and headphones available for rent upon court entrance that guide you in your respective language to where you need to go (with pictures) and act as real-time translators with court actors.
    2. Goal: Facilitate the processes of moving through the court and interacting with court personnel despite language barriers.

With these ideas in mind, we are going to spend next week whittling down these to five favorites, drawing out the ideas, and then interviewing individuals at the courthouse as to what they like and/or dislike about these potential solutions to language access problems.

Class Blog Design Research Project updates

Observing a county court for language access

Initial Observations at the Santa Clara Family Justice Center (Week 2)
By Sahil Chopra

During our second week of the course, we paid our first visit to the Santa Clara Family Justice Center in order to observe, explore, and immerse ourselves in the court experience. Our day at court was structured around exploring the self-help facilities before branching out into smaller, more intimate portions of the courthouse in smaller groups. My team drove down to the court and arrived at around 8:30 am, just as the self-help waiting room started to fill up. We jotted down a few stray observations before convening with the rest of our class in the lobby at 9:00 am, where our instructors Margaret and Jonty handed out a few Design Review pamphlets for our day at court, wherein we continued to write down our observations and thoughts.

Here are the highlights from our first trip to court. Next week, we shall pool our individual observations and insights, as we brainstorm what potential problems and solutions might be.

Self-Help Desk


Many users do not have access to a lawyer, so the court provide a self-help desk, where individuals wait in a queue until court staff call up their ticket number and can help them address their problem — whether that be information about the filing process or guidance as to which forms must be filled out in order to proceed with their case. While the self-help desk provides an invaluable service, it is often understaffed. As a result, court users often lineup outside the Family Court around 7:00 am, though the center does not open till 8:30 am and does not start processing tickets until about 9:00 am. When it comes to language access, there is not much the self-help desk can provide on its limited budget. If one does not speak English, he/she/they must bring along a translator, a legal adult in the state of California, i.e. 18 years or older, who is preferably a relative. If they come without a translator, they will ultimately be turned away.


The self-help waiting room feels like a hybrid of the DMV and a doctor’s office. Everyone sits side-by-side, but in their own little-world. Entering the room, there are black chairs lining the perimeter of the room, except for the left-hand-wall, where there is a wall full of assorted forms. While it seemed very well organized, i.e. color-coded, accessible, etc., there were very few people who approached the wall to pick up flyers. Perhaps, the singular placement of all essential forms seemed overwhelming?

Sitting in the crowd, it was easy to spot parents who had brought their teenagers to help them with their paperwork. In hushed voices, I saw a sixteen year boy reading over an assortment of forms, quickly translating them to their mom. Translation services would help decongest the overflowing waiting room, by limiting the number of family members that would need to be brought along. Additionally, it would be beneficial for both the kids and the parents, if the children did not have to take time off school.



Throughout the week, there are several workshops that the self-help desk hosts, wherein the process for filing a specific motion is discussed and then assistance is provided with form-filling. It just so happened that our-visit coincided with a divorce workshop.

After spending some time in the self-help room a few of us decided to observe the workshop.


While we were sitting in the self-help room, one of the court staff came out and announced who made it into the workshop and who did not. It seemed a bit impersonal and harsh to be called out by name, especially when everyone knows the issue associated with your use of the court. But maybe, that helps normalize the act of getting help?

The informational portion of the workshop consists of a 50 minute, screen-capture powerpoint presentation and narration. It was interesting that there were more spots for the video portion of the workshop than the 1:1 assistance portion of the workshop, even though the latter part feels more important towards the goal of filing a motion. This discrepancy between max capacity and serviceable capacity highlights the need for more staff.

The PowerPoint video described the technical legal terminology and processes surrounding divorce. While informative, the video didn’t seem to be helpful. Within the room, one couple talked over the video — trying to fill out their paperwork, as the video played. Most of the other viewers seemed to pay attention for the first five minutes before sliding into their chairs and waiting out the remainder of the video’s runtime.

The first problem with the video is that it is entirely in English. If you don’t speak English well, you’ve just wasted 50-minutes that could have been spent getting help.

The second problem with the video is that it is too long and lacked participant engagement. It’s important to be precise and informative, especially when dealing with legal matters; but the video consisted of a powerpoint and a voiceover. There was no color and few pictures. Furthermore, it did not actually help with the process of filling out the forms. Without interactivity, the video failed to provide actionable instructions — thus failing its purpose of providing help to individuals who needed assistance in filing for divorce.

The third problem with the video is that it is unaccessible. It cannot be accessed outside the workshop, and even within the workshop it cannot be paused, rewinded, etc. Thus, it fails it’s purpose of being a 1-stop-reference for all things divorce-related. Additionally, the video was poorly constructed in that a lot of the important facts were spoken but never transcribed on the slides themselves, even though the slides themselves were full of text.

Possible Language Access/Self-Help Solutions

After sitting through the workshop, I think there is a lot low hanging fruit here, i.e. small changes that can be made to improve outcomes and scale the program — even in the face of budgetary issues.

Solution 1 (Low Overhead): There are many computers in the workshop room. Instead of making everyone watch the PowerPoint video together, provide every workshop-attendee a pair of headphones, so that they can pause and rewind the video wherever they want.

Solution 2 (Low Overhead): Split the presentation into digestible chunks. After each video section have the workshop-attendees fill out the respective portion of the form. This tight coupling is often used in flipped classrooms and should make the process more self-directed.

Solution 3 (Low Overhead): Post the video and presentation online. Let people view the contents and fill out the form digitally at home.

Solution 4 (High Overhead): Translate the presentation into several key languages, i.e. Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, Mandarin. This is a one-time job but would improve accessibility tremendously.

Miscellaneous Observations

After experiencing the divorce workshop first hand, we decided to sit on a few of the court hearings that were open to the public. Before, we headed up the stairs to the court rooms, I stepped away to get some water. In the five minutes that I was gone, my teammates encountered a Latino women, who could not speak English well. She was asking, where she could find the police; and it was only after a few exchanges that my teammates realized that she was looking for “something to keep [a person] away”, i.e. a restraining order. They then showed her the route to the appropriate court office, but it was apparent that there needs to better outreach within local cultural and ethnic communities in both discussing the purpose of the court, the terminology surrounding the court, and the services that it can provide. This might help reduce friction for those seeking support, especially not native speakers. Perhaps outreach at libraries, churches, and grocery stores might help with this problem.

Overall, I was surprised to see how calm and collected the judges were at responding and guiding the proceedings. It seemed as if they really cared about both parties involved. The empathy demonstrated was quite moving, especially given how messy some of the court cases were.

Class Blog Project updates

Identifying A Single Prototype for language access improvement

By Sahil Chopra

(Part of a series of posts documenting the Design for Justice: Language Access class)

Entering home stretch of the Autumn quarter, we spent today’s class first synthesizing our findings and working on our final pitch to the California Judicial Council and then selecting one of our prototypes for further development.

To start the the synthesis process, we grabbed a whiteboard and divided it into two halves — with one side dedicated to answering “What we heard or saw?” and the other dedicated to answering “What do we do in response?” Starting with the former question, we started jotting down quotes and experiences we had catalogued over the past few weeks from our interviews and observations, before clustering them around common topics. This exercise yielded two incredibly salient themes that we hope to address with our revised prototype:


  • Time: People fear the courthouse, because it takes an inordinate amount of time and as a result deprives of economic and educational opportunity that they would be accumulating, had they not spent hours upon hours and days upon days within the courthouse. One woman we interviewed exclaimed that, “divorce right now is almost a full-time job”; while another lamented that the amount of time she had to spend in court affected her kids’ academics, as they had to accompany her so that she could have the proper assistance necessary to fill out the English-language forms.
  • The process of getting proper help seems to take too much time because the self-help desk is understaffed and because court users produce a large number of errors while filling out their paperwork. Many of the people have interviewed over the past several weeks have mentioned that they often spend several hours waiting to be helped, only to be told that they made a mistake in their documents and are then sent to back the of line to seek guidance.
  • As a result, we witness a vicious cycle. The self-help desk is constantly creating its own backlog of requests, ultimately increasing stress and time allotted per case — for both the clerks and the court users. As a result of this feedback, one of our primary goals is to reduce the amount of time that a user has to spend in order to fill and submit their proper paperwork. This will help users have a more pleasurable and accessible court experience, while reducing the stress upon the self-help clerks.

  • Language Barriers Are Multifaceted: One thing we did not realize until we began user testing was how multifaceted of a problem language barriers actually are. When presenting our “Redesigned-Form” prototype to non-native speakers last week, we established a situation where we asked our interviewees to file for divorce. On the second page of the prototype, we asked our court users to declare whether they wanted a “Divorce”, “Legal Separation”, or “Nullity” from a “Marriage” or “Domestic Partnership”. While it was clear to the user that they were on a page associated with divorce, they were unsure as to what the differences were between a “divorce”, “legal separation”, and a “nullity”. As a native English speaker these terms seem foreign, as they are rooted in precise legal terminology; so one apparent aspect of “language access” is to provide court users with simple language that unpacks these precise terms. But the problem with language access extends far behind legal terminology and words in different languages. There are often significant cultural barriers as well. When interviewing a technologically-savvy Uyghur woman, we saw her even tried opening Google Translate on her phone, writing the phrase, and having the service produce a Mandarin version of the text. The problem was, however, that the concept did not exist in her culture; so even though she had the translated phrase, the concept did not register. This highlights the fact that language access does not simply include English-barriers, but also cultural ones. We must overcome both in order to provide true access to court systems.


With this in mind, we shifted to the other half of the board, answering “What do we do in response?” Here are a few of the ideas from that brainstorm:

  1. Split the current forms into manageable chunks so that we do not overwhelm court users and narrow context of any page down to a singular topic so that it become easier for a non-native speaker to identify the goal of the page, even if they struggle to understand the bulk of it.
  2. Provide native-language instructions and definitions that unpack legal ease in laymen’s terms and pay attention to cultural differences, in their explanations of legal terms.
  3. Add legal advice forums like r/legal-advice into the court website; and provide a platform for non-native speakers to voice their experiences to others within their communities. We heard from many younger court users, that they looked online to blogs in order to understand the experience they were about to undertake, as a user of the court. These blogs reassured them and provided guidance, when they were most confused. It would be cool to provide this type of support on the court website and extend it to non-native speakers.

Moving forward, we are going to further pursue our “Redesigned-Form” prototype, diving deeper into the Divorce Experience to provide a more nuanced prototype experience.

Class Blog Project updates

Design for Justice: Language Access — an introduction in week 1

by Sahil Chopra

Language is the medium by which we interact with culture, express our ideas, and maintain our rights. Without “language access”, i.e. the ability to convey one’s thoughts effectively and understand others correctly, one is disempowered altogether. At a societal level this can lead to systemic inequality, whether intentional or not; and one of the places where this is most evident is the court system.

This Autumn, I’m one of the 25 students enrolled in Stanford’s Design for Language Access, a course initiated by the Stanford Legal Design Lab to investigate and advise how state courts may better serve Californians entering the legal system, who either do not speak or have limited proficiency with English.

As the Judicial Council of California’s Strategic Plan for Language Access in California Court details, 40% of Californians speak non-English languages at home, 200+ languages and dialects are spoken by Californians as a whole, and approximately ~20% of Californians have English language limitations. Going to court is always a stressful experience, as the impetus to seek court help is often a difficult circumstance itself. Coupling the weight of the incident with the inability to communicate and properly resolve your issue only magnifies the stress incurred by the individual. Moreover, it may be difficult to properly resolve one’s legal issue and receive the proper access to one’s legal rights if they are unable to effectively communicate with lawyers, clerks, and judges within the judicial branch. Thus, “language access”, as the Judicial Council of California titles it, is a critical issue that we must address in order to ensure and fair and equitable legal proceedings.

Personally, I have no prior background with judicial systems. I’m a computer scientist by training, completing my BS/MS with concentrations in Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction – focusing a bulk of my research in cognitive science and natural language processing. But that’s where the diverse experience of my classmates come in. We are lawyers, teachers, designers, business students, and computer scientists — all hoping to better understand this space and offer a different perspective.

Over the next nine weeks, we shall apply the fundamental principles of “Design Thinking” to first observe and interview individuals going through the court system and then hypothesize, prototype, and test potential strategies that may provide better language access to millions of Californians. Our class will culminate in a list of possible solutions and implementations which the California courts may consider as potential avenues by which the state can improve language access at scale. Additionally, we shall be evaluating a pilot program that California courts is running in San Jose, where tablets with Google Translate are being employed to help ease communication between non-English-speaking clients and English-speaking court staff.

Stay tuned to learn more week-by-week about our journey to help provide better language access to Californians!

Class Blog Project updates

The evolution of an eviction self-help website

by Margaret Hagan, also published at Legal Design and Innovation

Along with Daniel Bernal, I’ve been teaching a Stanford pop-up class, Design for Justice: Eviction. We’ve been working with a team of 10 students and a network of experts, legal aid groups, and courts, to plan out new ways to support people who have received eviction notices.

Design for Justice: Eviction concept board for self-help

The challenge of the class is: what can we provide to people who have just received an eviction summons and complain in the mail, to help them understand their rights and feel empowered to show up to court?

In the first class, Daniel laid out the background research and concepts. He is working on his PhD with this challenge as his focus, and he got the team up to speed on the current legal landscape and self-help offerings.

From there, our student teams began scoping hypotheses — new insights and concept designs of what could address the challenge. Then, within a month, we vetted these with our network of experts, to get their ranking of importance and viability. And our designers and developers sprinted to create medium-fidelity, working versions of the concepts that were vetted.

This past weekend, we subjected these mid-fidelity prototypes to user testing, with people who have been evicted previously. We’ll be writing up our findings more thoroughly later — but for now we just wanted to show the evolution of one design over a month.

The evolution of a legal self-help website

One of the main vehicles for this self-help will be a website. Here is it’s journey in sketches and images.

October 24th: At a lunchtime, test-run workshop, a student/faculty team proposes an online resource for tenants facing eviction
Jan. 19th: at class planning meeting, our teaching team sketches out one of the possible website prototypes that might emerge during our class
April 28th: At our proper class, one of the students, David, creates a one-page concept sketch of an interactive self-help website
May 3: plotting all the possible functions that could go on a page
May 11: Boiling down all the functions to a cleaner flow, simple sketch — the start of some color
May 13th: Focusing the details, the messaging of the culled down website
May 18: Getting specific (though a little messy) about 3 different variations to test against each other
May 19th: Testable live version of website — not perfect in terms of content or visuals, but a skeleton of the functions and flow we’re looking for

We had 3 different versions of the May 19th website — we’ll be streamlining these based on feedback into one higher-fidelity site. We’re digesting all the user feedback we received at our latest testing session to redraft the site. All this is aiming towards a trial that Daniel will run over the summer of new self-help interventions, likely including a website, to see how people engage and use them in real life.

The evolution will continue, stay tuned!

Class Blog Design Research

Eviction design class

In late April 2018, Daniel Bernal and Margaret Hagan taught the first part of the pop-up Design For Justice: Eviction. The class focused on how we might better empower people who have received eviction notices (specifically, in Arizona) to know their rights, their options, and to go to court to fight eviction.

In the class, our 2 teams focused on what intervention we might send in the mail to activate someone right after they have received an eviction notice, and what intervention we might point them to for greater support and guidance.

We worked in 2 phases. First, we did a recap of key insights, personas, players, and trends regarding the eviction process, user experience, and legal help resources in Arizona. We did this with calls to Arizona legal help leaders, a service designer who has been working on eviction help, and Daniel’s presentations on his research into eviction trends and strategies in Arizona.

Our second phase of work was brainstorming and prototyping. Our 2 teams focused on the different intervention points, to create an Idea Catalogue of possible ways to empower users through a mailer or a digital resource.

From this brainstorm, we critiqued the ideas with some help from our frequent collaborator, Kursat Ozenc, who is a design strategist. We will now write up these ideas, formalize them slightly, and invite a panel of legal, sociology, behavior change, technology, and design experts to give further feedback. From there, we will begin to develop first versions of several of the concepts that we will test with the public in our second half of the class.

Class Blog

Final report from Prototyping Access to Justice: 7 prototypes to make courts more user-friendly

Last Friday was the final class in the Stanford Law School/ class Prototyping Access to Justice. Kursat Ozenc and I were teaching the course as a practical, service design effort.

The big question guiding the work: if hundreds of thousands of Californians go to the courts to deal with their divorce, child custody, debt, and housing problems — how can we make the courts work for them, on their own terms? We know that growing numbers of people are trying to use the courts without a lawyer, but that the courts have been designed for lawyers — with complex procedure and intimidating jargon is so complicated that only lawyers can really figure it out.

Students were given initial design briefs that we had crafted from our earlier research into California Courts’ Self Help Centers last year. In the first version of this class, we followed litigants through their court journeys and interviewed professionals to identify key opportunities and breakdown points.

This quarter’s classes aimed to use this groundwork to jump more quickly into prototyping and testing. Each of the design teams worked on site at San Mateo County or Santa Clara County courthouses, and at the Stanford labs — going through 3 cycles of scoping out a concept design, making a prototype of it, and testing it with many different stakeholders.

We ended up with seven proposals for the courts to pilot. Two concerned how to remake the court building and design of physical space. Two were new modes of guides, to present better ways to guide litigants through complicated tasks. One was about better form completion. One was about new modes for court feedback. And one was about better preparing court users before they come to court for the first time.

The teams made videos, maps, and presentations to capture their proposals, and we present them here for you to review. We ask you for your feedback now — because we are vetting these seven proposals to decide which to continue working on and possibly pilot with the courts.

1. Redesign of the Court Building: Visual Lines + Signs for Empowered Wayfinding

Team Chuka Ryori were tasked with helping people just as they arrived at the court the first time. How could we make people feel more supported, less confused and intimidated, and more capable of getting through the process efficiently?

Visual Wayfinding in Courts from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

Their proposal is to launch a coordinated, color-coded, pictogram-based wayfinding system in the court building. There should be color paths on the floor for the most common user destinations, with pictograms and a palette that supports finding the right place.

They did guerrilla-design work, by “decorating” the actual court with new lines, signs and pictograms to test how users reacted. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Our next steps are to refine the color palette and pictograms, and then work with the court to implement the new lines and signs.

2. Redesign of the Court Building: Respectful, Transparent Line Waiting

Team Golden Design Warrior was focused on the next moment in the user’s journey, when a person found the Self Help Center, but now must deal with the long and confusing wait to get services. After several different ideas to change the layout of the space, the team moved to focus on how to set up lines that gave users greater transparency and more comfort while waiting to be served.

New Line Waiting Design in Courts from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

The team identified that people were rushing to wait in a confusing line. They were stressed out, and in turn stressing out the staff who felt as if they had to barricade themselves in against a huge amount of people who wanted things from them. The goal of the system is to give people a clear ticket that would give them an explicit place in line, and would let them relax, sit down, and see when they could expect to be served.

The first pilot is just with laminated cards and a person distributing them near the entrance. Then it can be scaled to an automated ticketing service.

This prototype has tested remarkably well with both litigants and professionals, reducing both stakeholders’ stress and giving them more of a sense of control. With the simple intake during the sign-up, the professionals can better prep for the clients’ cases. They also get insulated from the pressure of a huge group of people hovering around their doors.

The joy of this design is how a simple service intervention can have a huge experiential payoff — making the experience of visiting court or working there be less anxious, confusing, and stressful.

3. Visual Book Guide to Following a Legal Process

Instead of worksheets and forms, or instructions told out loud before a person leaves the Center, how do we convey instructions and guidance to them? How do we make it easier for them to follow the procedure, so they stay on track and get it all completed correctly and on time?

Team Jiffy Justice proposes a visual booklet, that gives people a step-by-step map of what the process will look like, what to do, and how exactly to finish the steps. It’s about envisioning, modeling, and taking legal actions out of abstract text language, and into clear, grounded situations.

My Court Case Guide for self represented litigants from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

The team made a map that can be printed as a poster, a handout, or part of the book. It gives the systems-level view of the case. People liked this as an orientation material, but still wanted more detail about exactly what each of these steps entails. A high-level view helps give a person the mental model of the system, but they want to dig into more specific instructions and strategies.

The team made the booklet to enhance the guide, to go from the map to the detailed instructions.

They built it specifically so it could be easily printed on common paper sizes by the Self Help Center. It incorporates the map, but then with details of the forms, the filing info, and common flags and warnings.

The next, scaled-up version of this would be a digital version (most likely on mobile) that has the step-by-step guidance and the map for the person to follow along as they go through the process.

4. Text-based coaching through complicated process

Team Exit took this same challenge — how to help people through complicated procedures that they often fail at? Their proposal is more tech-centered, harnessing the power of the mobile phone. They created a prototype of the RemindMe Text system, in which litigants would get coaching reminders, customized due dates, and clear blasts of instructions about what to do to serve process (a particularly thorny part of a process, that people often screw up).

Court Text Messaging Project: RemindMe Text from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

The team embraced the principle of staging information and providing it at the right moment and context. Rather than give huge worksheets with general information all at once, segment it into specific messages and customize it with the user’s own information.

This program could later incorporate other kinds of messages, beyond reminders — including the maps and visuals that Team Jiffy Justice had in their booklets, or the wayfinding and prep materials that other teams proposed.

The great part of this proposal is that the text message channel, opened up between the courts and the litigants, can allow for a diversity of services to be provided in the future. As more technology is developed for court services, they can be integrated into this same channel.

5. Prep People Before Court with Warnings and Key Info

Even before people come to court, how do we make sure they come prepared to make the most of the day — and not waste it? Especially if it takes several hours to even get to speak to someone at court, how do we make sure people come with the paper, translators, and knowledge enough to get their tasks accomplished?

PrepMe: Pre-Court Information Strategy from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

PrepMe is an idea to do better outreach around this Prep information, via websites, mobile apps, and other court materials. It should be in multiple languages, and show very prominently the most common prep information people don’t know: about translators, child care, and timings.

This information can be presented also in court correspondence, posters, fliers, and any other ‘touchpoint’ where people are thinking about using the court system and planning for how to do it.

It prioritizes language access as a fundamental principle of design of court information, rather than as an add-on afterthought.

6. Help People Fill in Forms Better

One of the big failpoints in the legal process is the correct completion of forms. Team Remind proposed two prototypes — one paper-based, the other tech-enabled for improving litigants’ ability to complete Service of Process forms.

The paper-based system involves tagging up and creating a model completed form, that would guide a person through exactly how to follow this model.

The tech-based guide uses a Google Doc form to let people enter in the key data points, and then uses Python to fill in the form with this data. The litigant (or the process-server) never needs to see the Judicial Council form except when they print and file it. The Python script does the completion for them.

The vision of this prototype is to have a 2-pronged tech/paper strategy, so that resources are allocated to different types of users in the system. It is also to come up with cheap hacks to use the power of technology. Rather than contract with an expensive, proprietary vendor to provide for form-filling, the goal here is to mash together existing, modern, mobile-friendly services (like Google Docs) to get a very cheap and quick working system of filling in forms.

The other big insight here was in the power of having an interdisciplinary team, with lawyers and computer scientists working together to find the most strategic uses of technology that would serve the legal system. Lawyers should know the power of Python — a major takeaway for our partners.

7. Gather user input and experiences to feed back to the Courts

Team Law4U drafted a prototype of a kiosk in the Self Help Center’s office, that would ask simple questions from people as they’re waiting to get service. They’d be able to rate the court’s quality of service and give ideas for improvements.

Feedback systems for Courts from Margaret Hagan on Vimeo.

In the future, this program could also recruit litigants to join a Standing User Testing panel, in which they’d be compensated for reviewing new court efforts or giving more feedback to the courts. This would feed into a broader culture of testing and experimentation in the system.

These seven prototypes are the result of 9 weeks of hard, creative work by our Prototyping Access to Justice class. Many thanks to the wonderful students and coaches!

We are soliciting feedback now on these prototypes, so that we can then proceed to pilot implementations of some of them in the courts. Let us know what you think!