Image from e-Courts / Chatbots and ODR banner image

Chatbot in New Jersey and Landlord/Tenant ODR in Iowa

February 10, 2021

As part of the eCourts 2020 virtual conference, NCSC’s Paul Embley interviewed two IT experts building a chatbot for the New Jersey court system and using Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for landlord/tenant cases in Story County, Iowa.

New Jersey’s Jack McCarthy discussed the process his team used to implement a chatbot in September 2019 to help handle the volume of questions the New Jersey court system was receiving from the public. He stated the chatbot system itself was cheap to set up, but the more difficult work involved teaching the system to address real questions. The first stage involved generating questions that the court help desk staff thought were going to be asked most. These 1,000 or so questions and answers were entered into a database and testing began. Initially, there was only a 30% success rate mainly because there was no answer to the question. The team entered correct answers which raised the rate to 80-90%. The next step was to reach out to the rest of the New Jersey judiciary to start entering questions and answers into the system which repeated the result of dropping scores to 30-40% and building back up to 80-90% accuracy as correct answers were added to the program. After the roll out to the public, the same dip and rebound pattern in response accuracy occurred. McCarthy’s key point was the questions court staff thought the public would be asking about the court system were not the same questions the public actually asked. The question and answers in the program are now over 15,000 and resulting in significant time saving for the court staff.

Christy Schreiner of Iowa addressed landlord/tenant case in Story County and how a chatbot could improve the 90% default rate. The time span from being served to a court date in the county is only eight days. After reviewing eviction steps and procedures, and gauging interest from property owners, she saw there was a great deal of interest in the project. Iowa State University, Iowa Legal Aid, and the City of Ames joined in the ODR effort. The State Justice Institute (SJI) also assisted in funding the pilot project. Another part of the project is to provide help to navigate parties through the process and improve access to resources in the county. While still in development, the project is focusing on engaging landlords and tenants to use the ODR system.

View the eCourts session to learn more details about New Jersey and Iowa’s efforts and see Getting Started with a Chatbot from the Joint Technology Committee.  In addition, NCSC hosted a September 2020 a video chat with staff from the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County which discussed their chatbot system.

Tell us what you think. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences.