Streamlining Justice: How Online Courts Can Resolve the Challenges of Pro Se Litigation

58 Pages Posted: 22 May 2017 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017

See all articles by Ayelet Sela

Ayelet Sela

Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 23, 2016


The tide of pro se litigation in the American justice system imposes significant constraints on self-represented litigants’ (SRLs) access to justice and courts’ ability to administer justice. Mitigating the challenges requires a systemic institutional and procedural reform. Advancing this approach, the Article proposes that online courts would alleviate many of the challenges associated with pro se litigation, and puts this proposition to an empirical test. Specifically, the article introduces a model for a Judicial Online Dispute Resolution (JODR) system for pro se litigation, and reports the findings of a study testing its effect on SRLs’ procedural justice experiences.

Section I describes the realities of pro se litigation in the United States; the unique characteristics and challenges associated with it from the perspective of both SRLs and courts and the measures employed to address them. Section II introduces the field of ODR and reviews key JODR implementations. Section III proposes a framework for a JODR system for pro se litigation, focusing on non-prisoner civil and administrative proceedings between government agencies and self-represented individuals—whether in court or administrative trial-like hearings. Section IV reports the results of an experiment comparing the effect of JODR system designs that rely on asynchronous online text and video communication on SRLs’ procedural justice experiences. Its two main findings are a) that the judicial officer’s (judge) medium of communication has a consistent main effect on SRLs’ procedural experiences (regardless of whether SRLs used text or video communications); and b) that a system design whereby the judicial officer (judge) communicates via video messages and the SRL communicates via text messages is advantageous in terms of SRLs’ procedural justice experiences compared to both the prevalent ODR system design of two-way text communication as well as the theoretically celebrated two-way video communication. Finally, section V concludes the article, discussing implications and directions for future research.

“Held to appropriate process and technology design standards, online judicial dispute resolution systems can improve the quality of SRLs’ participation, their procedural justice experiences, and the overall fairness of the process. Technology is at our fingertips; justice may very well be too.”

Keywords: pro se, litigation, procedural justice, ODR, court, online court, dispute system design, DSD, online dispute resolution

Suggested Citation

Sela, Ayelet, Streamlining Justice: How Online Courts Can Resolve the Challenges of Pro Se Litigation (August 23, 2016). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Ayelet Sela (Contact Author)

Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900

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