Let’s Dare to Dream: Customer Service in the Courthouse of the Future?

Let’s Dare to Dream: Customer Service in the Courthouse of the Future?

During the course of the original National SRL Study, I was sometimes told  – by court staff, duty counsel and others working in public legal services– that SRLs came to the courthouse expecting it to offer them a customer-service model “like the passport office or the vehicle licensing office” – or, worse still, “like Wal-Mart.” Obviously, some laughed, the justice system could not function like other service experiences.

Maybe not. Certainly the public cannot buy “justice”. But what if we imagined a public justice centre in 10 years from now in which we saw some of the basic principles of customer care and service that are applied in other areas?

Justice System Service, 2024

Susie parked her eco-car in the Justice Centre underground parking lot, relieved at the opening of a convenient adjacent parking space after all those months of trying to find a pay lot on the crowded city street.

And the first hour is free! Susie was really hoping to take care of her business in the Justice Centre and be out again under an hour. In the old days of course that would have been a crazy dream – but now with the new automated check-in counters and a couple of circulating “Navigators” directing people on where to go and what they needed to do, things really seem to have speeded up in the Justice Centre. There were a lot fewer people wandering around looking hopeless, despondent and lost since the Justice Centre introduced the Navigators.

Susie was hoping that having worked on the forms she needed to file today at home on-line, she was well-prepared. The new interactive feature for the on-line forms had proven really useful last night in resolving a few last-minute panics as she worked on her documents late into the night. As well, the forms had become so much more user-friendly and simpler in the last few years – Susie had heard horror stories about byzantine rambling 25-page forms from former SRLs – and they had not even had access to on-line chat when they had had questions! How they managed in those days she could not imagine.

Susie was planning to finalize her documents with the dedicated form-checker located in the registry – Cindy would give them a final once over to make sure she had not missed anything – before going into the Representing Yourself Business Centre to print them out. After that it would be a simple matter to stand in line and file at the registry – of course they were now talking about e-filing which would be even better!

Although, to be honest, it was nice to see Cindy’s friendly face and get her reassurance that everything was in order – or to talk to Robert at the Representing Yourself Business Centre if you had a last-minute worry or question about format and presentation. The Business Centre had opened just last year for SRLs who did not have access to their own computer, printer or scanning facilities. Her own printer at home was on the brink so she preferred to pay a few dollars to use a reliable machine – and the staff there were so helpful and up-beat.

Just 38 minutes later, Susie had filed her documents and was starting to make her way back to the parking lot – via the on-site coffee shop that served such good lattes and now took debit cards as well as cash! – when she noticed a poster for a workshop being held at the Justice Centre the following week. It was on the very issue that she was trying to deal with on her own! Having used up her available savings already on some earlier legal assistance, Susie was relieved to see that the one hour question-and-answer session with a lawyer and a judge was free sign-up. She doubled back to the registry and made sure she got her name on the list.

Susie had attended an orientation workshop when she began her case a few months ago, and listening to the accounts of both Justice Centre staff and other SRLs had really helped her to anticipate what lay ahead. This new session sounded perfect for what she needed to know now, and perhaps would help her formulate some really good questions for her next meeting with duty counsel.

As she started up her hydrogen fuel-cell car and headed for work, Susie reflected on how much more accessible the Justice Centre was now that it opened in the early mornings and evenings as well as during regular business hours. Imagine, people used to have to take time off work to attend the courthouse – how ever did they manage? Trials and hearings were one thing, but taking a day off work to file documents?

How crazy was that? Susie chuckled to herself as she pulled out of the parking lot. And what is more, she had heard stories of lawyers, judges and court staff being unkind and even hostile towards SRLs in the past? Whaaaat? Susie had never had any experience other than kindness and efficiency. Those SRLs of the past, they had it hard.

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