Diversity by Design: Improving Access to Justice in Online Courts with Adaptive Court Interfaces

Journal of Law & Ethics of Human Rights 15(1) 125-152 (2021)

Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 21-04

28 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2020 Last revised: 24 Jan 2022

See all articles by Ayelet Sela

Ayelet Sela

Stanford Law School; Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2020


This article ties together two questions that court systems are increasingly concerned with: how might technology help improve access to justice, and how might they respond to the challenges of serving a diverse litigant population. These questions have become pertinent is in the context of online courts and tribunals, which have been instituted in many jurisdictions with the explicit goal of enabling self-represented litigants (SRLs) to complete virtually the entire court (or tribunal) process, from filing through final disposition. Online court designers seek to create a system that supports the ability of SRLs, who have limited legal knowledge, to navigate the proceeding, make informed decisions, and complete all litigation-related tasks. The diversity of litigants complicates the attainment of these goals. Litigants’ demographic attributes are associated with differences in their expectations, needs and preferences in court. In online settings, demographic attributes are also correlated with different usability and aesthetics preferences, which in turn, shape users’ behaviors and experiences. In addition, online courts bring to the fore differences in litigants’ digital self-efficacy.

The article proposes a strategy for addressing (some of) these challenges: “diversity by design.” It refers to embedding in online courts the ability to dynamically adapt their interfaces according to the demographic attributes of a given user in ways that promote three goals: a) increase SRLs’ willingness to engage with online courts; b) support SRLs’ effective participation (performance) in online courts; and c) improve SRLs’ experiences of procedural justice in online courts. For example, building on the association between demographic attributes and usability and aesthetic preferences, an online court interface can be adapted (personalized) to increase a given SRL’s confidence and trust in using it, as well as to improve their ability to process information, deliberate, make informed decisions and communicate them. Ultimately, “diversity by design” is envisioned not only as a means for empowering SRLs, but also as a strategy for increasing the usefulness, relevance, and legitimacy of online courts among a broad user community.

The article includes four sections. Section I briefly reviews the challenges faced by SRLs in court, the state of the art of online courts, and their human-centered SRL-oriented design. Section II, explains how the digital choice architecture of online courts (and specifically, their interface design) affects SRLs’ perception of the court, their behavior and decision-making on the platform, and their overall experience. Subsequently, Section III, discusses the relationship between users’ demographic attributes and their reaction to digital choice environments. Finally, Section IV presents the concept of “diversity by design” as well as discusses and responds to potential ethical and normative concerns that the personalization of court interfaces may raise. Key elements in this regard are the distinction between adaptive (personalized) interface design and personalized procedures or outcomes; an emphasis on transparent human-centered evidence-based design; and a commitment to empowering SRLs’ informed and deliberate decision-making rather than steering them towards particular choices or behaviors.

Keywords: Courts, ODR, Online Court, Diversity, SRL, self-represented litigants, human-centered design, access to justice, procedural justice, choice architecture, human-computer interaction, HCI

JEL Classification: K41, K10

Suggested Citation

Sela, Ayelet, Diversity by Design: Improving Access to Justice in Online Courts with Adaptive Court Interfaces (November 1, 2020). Journal of Law & Ethics of Human Rights 15(1) 125-152 (2021), Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 21-04, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3733877

Ayelet Sela (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900

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