Update on the Filing Fairness Project

As summer turns to fall, the Filing Fairness Project is refining, testing, and implementing its theory of change. The next step in the process of building a fairer and more inclusive civil justice system is building partnerships with the next set of essential stakeholders: technology providers. To that end, we’ve been hard at work identifying, learning from, and collaborating with leading technology groups in and around the legal tech space.

The Challenge: Patchwork Efiling Tools Preventing Widespread Access

Update on the Filing Fairness Project
State Court Administrator and former Judge Tom Boyd (Michigan), Justice Melissa Hart (of the Colorado Supreme Court), and Justice Evelyn Wilson (of the Kansas Supreme Court) address the critical access to justice challenge.

As we’ve noted previously, new, innovative solutions are needed to help litigants, including those without lawyers, access state courts and vindicate their rights. Every year, 55 million people experience 260 million legal problems. Of those, 120 million go unresolved or conclude in an unfair way.

Filing state court documents online is very difficult (and sometimes impossible) despite readily available technology. While some jurisdictions offer technology and resources to help navigate the justice system, small differences in legal forms – and in the back-end systems through which they are filed – inhibit tech companies from scaling litigant-facing tools for nationwide or even statewide use. As a result, innovative solutions typically occur as one-off, single-jurisdiction pilots that are costly to maintain and do not spread easily to other jurisdictions.

Our Progress Thus Far: Coordination Between Disparate States

Update on the Filing Fairness Project 1
At the March kick-off, the Stanford Law School team presented on the three pillars of a successful pilot.

Beginning with a March kick-off and extending through the summer, we have worked with court leaders from six states – Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia – to plan a streamlined efiling approach for interested technology providers. We have also laid the groundwork to ensure that submitted litigant data is comprehensive and fileable, generating and revising (again, with the assistance of state court leaders) form fields lists that highlight common and jurisdiction-specific requirements.

Technology providers have repeatedly stressed the importance of such lists in ensuring that multi-jurisdictional efiling tool development is both possible and efficient. We are collaborating with states and tech providers to establish a formal process for updating these lists in the future.

Update on the Filing Fairness Project 2
Policy Lab students gathered after the March project kick-off. The Filing Fairness Project began as a project of the Stanford Law School Policy Labs, eventually growing into a full-fledged and long-term endeavor.

In parallel with state court coordination, we have continued the outreach with interested technology providers that began with the 2021-22 Policy Labs. Dozens of tech providers –from large, for-profit companies to small, non-profit organizations – attended a recent webinar, hosted by Stanford with state court participation, to learn how they could get involved in the Filing Fairness Project pilot. The webinar highlighted the need for innovative solutions to help individuals better navigate the state court system, including through demonstrated enthusiasm from states in expanding online access, particularly for self-represented litigants. After the webinar, attendees’ survey responses demonstrated a high degree of interest in building document assembly and efiling tools for users of state court systems.

Our Next Steps: Tech Summit Pilot Launch

Update on the Filing Fairness Project 3
The March project kick-off involved extensive collaboration within and across state delegations — mostly in the Stanford sunshine.

To begin implementing the pilot – and to build on the clear enthusiasm from both states and tech providers – Stanford has invited these stakeholders to attend a Tech Summit on October 14th to be held on the campus. During this all-day working session, tech providers will receive form fields lists and efiling integration plans from each participating state, and they will engage directly with state court leaders to ask questions and begin designing pilot document assembly efiling tools.

Upon the Tech Summit’s conclusion, tech providers will commence building and testing document assembly tools that can efile court forms into multiple jurisdictions. We expect these tools to be available to the public in 2023.

Call to Action

If you are a tech provider who is interested in participating in the Filing Fairness Project Pilot, please complete this Google Form and subscribe to the CLP blog.

July 21, 2022
By Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession
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