Over the last few months, I have spoken frequently about two key components of our network transformation work: collaboration and centering community voices. Both are necessary to building a civil legal aid system that works for all District residents. As such, I am excited to share with you a recent study focusing on litigant perspectives in remote court hearings undertaken by NPC Research and the six member organizations of the Foundation's Family Law Learning Network (FLLN).
During the pandemic, FLLN members heard from clients that remote court hearings seemed to improve access to the court system and made the overall experience of handling their cases simpler. So, from July 2021 to November 2021, NPC Research and the six FLLN members surveyed 189 clients to better understand their experiences with remote court proceedings during the pandemic. You can read in-depth about the specific questions the survey asked in the full report.
Typically, legal services organizations only reach out to their own clientele when collecting client data. So, when the six FLLN members worked together for this study, the impact was substantial. Their collaborative efforts gave us a larger, more representative study sample in a shorter time with less burden on the individual FLLN members since they shared the load.
"This approach is emblematic of the DC Bar Foundation's overall strategic goals for the District: to better weave together the civil justice community in the service of ensuring access to justice for DC residents with low incomes," says Kelly Jarvis, Director of Research in Community Health at NPC Research. "This is one small example of how that kind of collaborative approach can yield success."
The study happened at an opportune time. When the pandemic hit, the courts had to make immediate and drastic shifts to proceed in a virtual environment. "In the frenzy of the last two years," says Jarvis, "the court has not had the time or resources to collect data from court users about their experience. The Remote Hearings Study filled in some of that gap. With the study results, the court leadership can incorporate litigant voice into their planning for the next phase of 'normal' court operations."
Overall, the study showed that remote hearings worked well for most people. Specifically, litigants reported that remote hearings generally alleviated logistical and financial challenges, including taking time off from work, paying for transportation, and arranging childcare. They also largely reported feeling less threatened by the opposing party, especially those with domestic violence cases.
Collaborative studies like this one allow us to better hear directly from the individuals who are using our city's civil legal aid network, giving us critical knowledge on what works and what needs to be improved. Amplifying and centering their voices is necessary if we want to build a system that is designed with its users at the center.
Kirra L. Jarratt
Chief Executive Officer