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NCSC offers guidance about using court chatbots to expand access to justice

NCSC offers guidance about using court chatbots to expand access to justice

January 10, 2024  --  Chatbots can be an effective tool for improving access to services and efficiency in court operations. In NCSC’s new guide, Court Chatbots: How to Build a Great Chatbot for Your Court's Website, our team explains how this computer software works and explores ways courts can use them to expand access.

“We know chatbots can provide great benefits to both the public and the court. However, we want to encourage courts to plan well and adequately support chatbots to ensure they are effective,” said NCSC Court Management Consultant Aubrie Souza, lead author of the new guide.

Today, you can find chatbots helping court users in Arizona, Los Angeles, and Miami answer frequently asked questions and provide information about navigating the court website and finding resources. Users interact with the chatbots via a menu or free text. In some cases, chatbots communicate with users in multiple languages.

The guide breaks down chatbot basics and identifies key areas to address when considering a solution for your court. It also covers important topics such as distinguishing between providing legal advice and legal information (Tiny Chat 26) and addressing digital divide concerns (Tiny Chat 4). The guide emphasizes that while a chatbot can help lessen the workload caused by phone calls, emails, live chats, and in-person visitors, it should supplement, not replace, staff.

Recommendations for building a good chatbot include:

  • Secure a vendor contract that addresses responsibilities such as maintenance, updates, security, data ownership and troubleshooting.
  • Pay close attention to how the chatbot will appear on your website and the expectations it sets for users.
  • Make the chatbot accessible by using plain language and text, colors and cues that can be recognized by users with visual impairments, and screen readers.
  • Provide users with transcripts and instructions on how to contact the court or an external resource if needed.
  • Recruit real users to test the chatbot before launch.

"Millions of Americans go to court every day without a lawyer, and resources to help them are limited," said Zach Zarnow, deputy managing director of NCSC's Access to Justice team. "Courts have a duty to meet all users where they are and communicate about those processes clearly and effectively. Chatbots can be a helpful option for assisting court users in finding relevant and reliable legal information and to fulfill the court's access obligations."

Nominations open for Sandra Day O'Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education

NCSC is accepting nominations for the 2024 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education. Named for the late associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the award recognizes an organization, court, or individual(s) that has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education relating to the justice system.

Nominations must be made by a member of the Conference of Chief Justices, Conference of State Court Administrators, or NCSC Board of Directors.

Nominations should be submitted via email to Molly Justice by Wednesday, February 14. Visit the NCSC website for more information about the award and nomination process.

Jan. 22 webinar to explore the State of the State Courts

Public opinion reflects continuing challenges for courts and all institutions of government—but with some glimmers of optimism for the future, according to NCSC’s 2023 State of the State Courts annual public opinion survey. The 2023 survey shows that 61 percent of respondents expressed some or a great deal of confidence in state courts, up one percentage point from the 2022 survey. The good news? This is the first year since 2019 that the confidence barometer has not dropped.

Join us on Monday, January 22, at 4 p.m. ET for a comprehensive review of our most recent survey results. We will review key findings and discuss implications for how courts can tailor strategies designed to increase public trust in their work. Speakers include: Karl Agne, Founding Partner, GBAO Strategies; Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, President, Conference of Chief Justices; and Jesse Rutledge, Vice President of Public Affairs, NCSC.

Reserve your spot online today!