The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on State Court Proceedings: Five Key Findings
The University of Illinois System’s Institute for Government and Public Affairs and the National Center for State Courts jointly conducted the COVID-19 and the State Courts Study between August 2020 and July 2021. The first stage of the study involved focus groups of attorneys, judges, court administrators, court staff, jurors, and litigants in four states. This report describes some results of the second stage of the study, which involved nationwide surveys of judges, court personnel, and attorneys. The surveys asked participants questions about access to courts during the pandemic and their experiences with the new strategies courts adopted to continue hearing and processing cases. This report summarizes five key findings from the surveys concerning access to the courts. • • First, early in the pandemic, most attorneys thought that litigants’ access to judicial proceedings was worse than usual. • Second, attorneys reported that litigants’ experiences in courts improved after September 2020. Over time, participants believed that some early access difficulties abated. • Third, court personnel had a more positive view than did attorneys about the ability of individuals to participate in the judicial system during the pandemic. • Fourth, attorneys with practices concentrated in landlord-tenant law and criminal law perceived somewhat greater problems than did attorneys who practice in other areas of the law. • Fifth, while participants identified many benefits to online court proceedings, they also saw drawbacks. Assessing whether and under what circumstances to conduct court proceedings online after the pandemic is over will require careful consideration of benefits and downsides and balancing some competing factors.