Judicial Council of California

The largest court system in the world, The Judicial Council of California worked with Exygy to modernize and increase the digital utility for those using the court systems in California.


The Judicial Council of California (JCC) is the chief policy-making agency of the largest court system in the world: California’s judicial system. JCC’s mission is to improve the administration of justice, encouraging courts to be consistent, independent, impartial and accessible to all.

JCC has jurisdiction over courts in each of California’s 58 counties. Each county operates differently. In an effort to enhance each court’s ability to provide equitable, accessible support, JCC is building a digital services team led by Mark Gelade and Jenny Phu. The Digital Services Team is supporting JCC’s efforts to increase the public’s access to justice by exploring how digital channels might be used to improve the experience of those visiting California’s courts.

The Problem

Serving a population of 40 million people — over 10% of the United States’ population — through the diversity of 58 different court systems, JCC faces many challenges in providing equitable access to justice for its constituents. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of clarity for “self-represented litigants,” or folks who represent themselves (often because of the high cost of working with an attorney). People representing themselves seek “self help” resources from their county court to navigate claims. The process of accessing self-help resources is made difficult, however, when basic information — like knowing which court to visit — isn’t accessible online. 

For people representing themselves, navigating the court system is exceptionally difficult at every step of a complex and nuanced process. Self-represented litigants must attempt to interpret the law, identify legal options available to them, and fill out and submit extensive forms and legal documents. Many litigants turn to online resources, but there is no centralized online source for clear, accessible information on even the most basic details like finding the right court.

The approach

In order to provide constituents with the best possible support, JCC needed to make more actionable support for court users available online. One fundamental change was adapting a user-centric lens when constructing Courts’ digital services. Their goal was to provide Californians with streamlined support from courts across all counties — large or small, urban or rural. 

Exygy and the JCC Digital Services Team set out to understand how to best support constituents’ needs when receiving court services. JCC identified self-help centers, where people navigate the court system without a lawyer, as an area for improvement. But before they could take action, the digital service team needed to understand how self-help users experienced the centers.

We conducted research through two methods:

1. Reviewing analytics across sites

We asked questions around where people looked for self-help, what they did with the resources they found, and how that differed between on-site centers and online resources. The data in our cross-site analytics report told a complex story that varied by County. Many small, rural courts had sparse resources for individuals pursuing self-help. Some larger courts had their own resource materials, unique to their court. However, each court worked independently. There was no standardization among the state’s court system. 

2. In-person user research

JCC’s Digital Services Team embarked on a research road trip with Exygy Lead Designer, Wendy Fong. Together, we visited six courts across California that ranged in size and demographics in both urban and rural counties. In total, the JCC team audited 22 courts.

Prototyping Solutions 

The patterns we uncovered through analytical and in-person research allowed us to identify three large pain points across the state that JCC could alleviate through an online resource. First, we worked to simplify the process for finding the right court — a revised & restructured version of a search tool named, “Find My Court.” Instead of driving to a court to find out if the service you’re looking for is provided, users can simply search their zip code to see information on nearby county trial court locations. This continues to be one of JCC’s most used resources.

By searching their zip code, self-help users can find nearby courts that provide the services that meet their needs. Additionally, Find My Court provides information on hours, parking, and public transit.

Secondly, we saw an opportunity to streamline the process of gathering necessary documents. “Financial Disclosures” is an area of JCC’s website that helps users have the right documents before visiting a courthouse. The tool guides users through a series of questions about their needs, and fills out necessary forms for the user based on their answers. By preparing documents at home rather than at the courthouse, JCC has created a more efficient process for all involved.

The Impact
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For many needing legal help, visiting a courthouse is one facet of an already sensitive, stressful experience. For example, someone looking to obtain a restraining order is facing a time sensitive, potentially dangerous situation. If they are traveling from court to court, unable to find the right location and be prepared with the right documents, our legal system is not meeting the needs of its constituents. Courts should be able to help people as quickly and safely as possible. 

As technology continues to be ever-present in our daily lives, our legal system needs to also provide the same level of modern, online support. JCC’s three new resources are a first step towards making online legal aid accessible for those needing help. And throughout California, we are seeing the adoption of these services. Courts are teaming up with JCC to innovate together on self-help resources. As we continue to reimagine how courts work with people, we are increasing their access to justice.

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