In criminal cases, the constitution provides for access to representation through a court appointed attorney. However, in civil cases, there is no such provision, and often litigants find that self-representation is their only method for utilizing the system. With the recent explosion of civil litigation, this has resulted in an overly stressed and inefficient civil court system where the litigants often rely on court clerks for information on how to complete complicated legal forms and, at times, even legal advice concerning their complaints.
In 1993, the State of Arizona addressed this problem with "QuickCourt," an interactive computer system that provides fast, reliable legal information and a means of filling out standard forms, at no charge. The core innovation is a computer kiosk, equipped with a menu-driven, multimedia program that walks the user through the principal steps required to file simple civil cases, and print out the necessary forms.
The program is designed to be user friendly. Victor, the computer-animated guide appears at first touch of the screen. Speaking Spanish or English, Victor then asks how he can help. As the functional aspect of the system is menu-driven, at Victor's command the relevant fields light up when he introduces them. For example, if you want to initiate an eviction proceeding, Victor will tell you when to type in: your name, address, phone number; your tenant's name, address, and phone number; the reason for the eviction action requested; the rent; and the last date rent was paid. Victor will then print out the necessary forms, already completed, for you to submit to the court clerk.
In its first year of existence, QuickCourt completed 20,000 transactions in its three kiosks. While only 3,000 of these transactions resulted in the production of forcible detainers or divorce forms to be filed, this number represents a savings of almost one million dollars over the estimated cost of those services in the open market.
The system also alleviates the court administrators and judges. Not only does it ensure that the paperwork is filled out correctly and completely, it will also take some of the tasks from the bench such as calculating the child support benefit required in divorce cases.
Arizona is seeking to develop the service by expanding the modules to include other services, (probate, small claims, name changes), as well as other languages (Hopi and Navajo). QuickCourt is also expanding to 150 other sites across the state that are open on evenings and weekends. Also, the forms can now be submitted electronically, saving the litigant postage, or in some cases, hours of driving time.The transferability of computer-assisted filing for the simpler tasks of civil court should be easily accomplished. The service will certainly need to be tailored to the individual requirements of each court, but after the initial effort, the return to both the citizens and the courts is significant enough to justify the cost. The program provides legal access to those citizens who are least able to afford it. In this way, Arizona's QuickCourt System is increasing the average citizen's access to civil justice.