'Tighten, cull and focus’: An experiment examining lay and lawyer claims in a mock online court
Toy-Cronin, Bridgette; Irvine, Bridget
Governments are turning to online self-help courts in an effort to cut costs, increase access to the justice system, and, in response to the global pandemic, to reduce physical contact. But to what extent do these courts support pro se or self-represented litigants? This article reports a laboratory experiment which compared how laypeople (pro se) and lawyers explained the same justiciable problem in a mock online court portal. Retired judges also evaluated a sub-set of blinded claims and provided opinions on their quality. The study found that the overall quality of laypeople’s claiming was lower than lawyers but there were outliers: both high-quality lay-filed claims and low-quality lawyer-filed claims. Laypeople were not as good at reporting legally salient details and showed confusion about corporate responsibility. When laypeople did report legally salient detail, they sometimes did so without a clear purpose or did so unclearly, confusing the reader. The quality of lawyer-filed claims varied and some created overly complex claims that would be uneconomic to litigate. We suggest that designers of online courts can use the evidence from this experiment, and future research like it, to build interfaces that will assist pro se or self-represented to more clearly explain their disputes.
Research Type: Journal Article