The Web has fundamentally changed citizens’ expectations of their institutions, public and private. Those expectations continue to evolve as Web 1.0 gives way to Web 2.0 and people become more accustomed participating in, rather than just consuming, online content. Nevertheless, a few basic principles can be gleaned from the most successful innovations in Web usage by state high courts so far.
State supreme courts should strive to provide with their websites, as well as they can, valuable content that is easy to locate and understand for various audiences in usable formats.
Of course, some of these goals complement each other, while others require tradeoffs. Making briefs, transcripts, audio and video, opinions, summaries and other content available to users through the website as well as RSS feeds and other social media can be difficult while also trying to keep the site simple and easy to navigate. Fortunately, an integrated calendar can help to link users with the content they are seeking in a chronological format that is likely to make sense to the interested public as well as court professionals.
Leaders in state high court website development have distinguished themselves by moving from the provision of the “raw materials” of judicial productivity to more mediated content. Searchable databases of court opinions, dockets and video files are important resources, but innovators have turned to case summaries and blogging to reach consumers in the media and larger public, strides referred to elsewhere as “second wave” applications of technology for court outreach.
To echo comments made earlier, as state budgets shrink and high courts continue to make decisions that interest the public, while coverage and commentary on state court decisions remains thin, it is important for those within the judicial branch and legal community to take the lead in ensuring that state supreme courts’ work is properly understood and appreciated.
The National Center for State Courts hosts a webpage with links to websites of the state judiciaries.