CourtFutures: The Next Ten Years

By Phillip Knox and Peter C. Kiefer

The Surveys

We have summarized the best thinking of nearly 1,400[1] court professionals who have looked at 186 different scenarios of possible futures.  This report highlights the 2019 assessments focusing on the responses by age cohort compared to the overall group.

Eight surveys conducted over seven years have sought to answer the question: what is the most likely future for courts?  By assessing the probability of various scenarios occurring within the next ten years and then averaging those results, we have developed estimates of what the future might hold for courts.  The assessed probabilities averaging from 1.0 to 1.9 are labeled Highly Likely; 2.0 to 2.4: Likely; 2.5 to 2.9: Maybe (50-50 Chance); 3.0 to 3.4: Unlikely; and 3.5 and higher: Improbable. Click below to view the full 2019 Combined Survey Results by Age Cohort displaying the probabilities of all 186 scenarios.

The Full 2019 CourtFutures Combined Survey Results by Age Cohort

No. 10:  Courts are Confronted by Ever-Increasing Cultural Challenges

Courts face a continuing barrage of diversity challenges, both by the customers they serve and in the workforce they employ.  Differences in gender, ethnicity, religious perspectives, and in opinions on work/life balance challenge all organizations, including courts. The 2017 survey included a scenario that courts will face ever-increasing cultural and linguistic challenges; it was assessed as Highly Likely with a 1.7 average probability.  The 2019 survey contains separate scenarios: one on cultural challenges and one on linguistic challenges.


No. 9: Courts are Confronted by Increasing Linguistic Challenges

Courts are also faced with an expanding array of linguistic challenges including ever more exotic languages and even tribal dialects.  As mentioned in the No. 10 highlight, this is the separate scenario on linguistic challenges.

No. 8: Courts Develop Online Individual Learning Modules to Train New Employees

The concept of individualized online learning, also known as “eLearning,” began to appear around 1999.  Now we see an array of online eLearning tools including intelligent assistants (sometimes called “chatbots”), interactive video-based learning, micro-courses, customized learning modules, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).  eLearning can defray training costs and employees can access eLearning on their own schedule rather than conforming to set class times.

No. 7: Court Computer Systems will be Hacked

Ransomware, malware, viruses, denials of service, phishing, and eavesdropping (surreptitiously looking for website data), are all ways of hacking into computer systems including court databases.  The need for computer security is growing exponentially.  The scenario “Court Computer Systems are Compromised,” was first surveyed in the Summer of 2013 and assessed as Likely with a 2.2 average probability.  The 2019 scenario is titled “Court Computer Systems Are Hacked.”

No. 6: Problem–Solving Drug Courts will Scale to Address the Opioid Crisis

Notwithstanding their reputation as being small calendars that handle dozens of participants while the opioid crisis involves thousands, respondents thought drug courts will scale up to meet the challenge of the opioid epidemic.

No. 5: Social Media will Remain a Secondary Method Court Leadership Uses to Communicate with Staff

Despite it being fast, low cost, easy to use, and easy to maintain, most respondents thought it was unlikely that Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook would become the preferred way court leadership will communicate with court staff.

No. 4: Older Workers Continue Working Hindering Younger Employee Advancement

Baby Boomers are continuing to work into their later years.  Partly, this is because when older workers leave a job they remain unemployed longer, and when they find work it is often for less pay.[1]  Many younger employees expect older workers to retire, avoid overusing shared resources like health care, and steer clear of youth-oriented popular trends such as social media sites.[2]    

No. 3: Self–Driving Vehicles will Remain Scarce

For a couple of years now the literature has predicted that we are on the cusp of the self-driving vehicle revolution, led by Elon Musk and Tesla Corporation.  Despite the publicity, responses to the 2015 survey assessed the likelihood of regularly seeing self-driving vehicles on the road within the next ten years as Unlikely with a 3.2 average probability.  In 2018, respondents assessed the scenario as having a 50-50 Chance with a 2.8 probability.


No. 2: Cannabis will Become Commonplace

In most states, either medical or recreational use of marijuana is legal, although possession in a number of states including Alabama, South Dakota, South Carolina, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Idaho is still a crime.  The Spring 2013 survey assessed the scenario “Medical Marijuana Will Be Legal” as Likely with a 2.3 average probability.  The 2014 survey assessed it as Likely with a 2.2 average probability within the next ten years.

No. 1: Skepticism Persists About Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assisting Judges

Despite numerous articles on how artificial intelligence can help judges with decision-making, particularly in sentencing and pretrial release, survey respondents remain uncertain if AI will be accepted.  The Winter 2015 survey assessed this scenario as being Unlikely with a 3.3 average probability.

We are gearing up for our 2020 survey and want to hear what you think we should ask.  Also, let us know of anyone who might be interested in participating in the next survey.  Email your suggestions to courtfutures@gmail.com.

[1] AARP and Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School in New York, March 13, 2017

[2] Michael North, http://www.theconversation.com/young-workers-expect-their-older-colleagues-to-get-out-of-the-way-73194 ( March 9, 2017).

[1]The Spring 2013 survey received 232 responses, the Summer 2013 survey received 212 responses, the 2014 survey received 510 responses, the 2015 survey received 493 responses, the 2016 survey received 369 responses, the 2017 survey received 391 responses, the 2018 survey received 352 responses, this latest 2019 survey received 398 responses.

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