Editorial Comment: Court Futures is an ongoing annual survey of court professionals about the feasibility of possible alternative futures impacting courts. It is affiliated with and published by https://courtleader.net which is independently developed and operated by a group of retired trial court administrators living in the American southwest. The website is intended to be a place for court professionals to find information, resources, and best practices in operating courts. Website features include opinion posts, podcasts, blogs, and guest articles.
Content represents the opinions and experiences of the sponsoring court professionals and contributing authors. Articles, information and broadcasts are intended to share perspectives and generate discussion of court leadership topics. They are not meant to represent the perspective of any particular court or organization. Principal CourtLeader contributors include Janet G. Cornell, Phillip Knox, Peter C. Kiefer, and Norman Meyer.
We have summarized the best thinking of over 1700 court professionals, with different subsets having reviewed 241 different scenarios of possible futures. This report highlights recent assessments and focuses on the responses by age cohort.
- Traditional Generation — Born Before 1945
- Baby Boomers — Born Between 1945 & 1964
- Generation X — Born Between 1965 & 1979
- Millennials — Born Between 1980 & 1994
- Generation Z — Born After 1994
Twelve surveys conducted over ten 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, then averaging those results, we have developed estimates of what the future might hold for courts.
The probability scale used by the respondents is as follows.
- 1: highly likely
- 2: likely
- 3: having an equal (50-50) chance
- 4: unlikely
- 5: improbable
The assessments are categorized as follows based on average response.
- 1.0 to 1.9: Highly Likely
- 2.0 to 2.4: Likely
- 2.5 to 2.9: Maybe (50-50 Chance)
- 3.0 to 3.4: Unlikely
- 3.5 and higher: Improbable
For an in-depth look at the scenarios, we invite you to go to courtleader.net. Janet Cornell hosts the site where we have posted several “thought pieces” on the CourtFutures webpage. You can request a full set of survey results by emailing us at .
10. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Replaces the Human Element in Judicial Decision-Making: IMPROBABLE
Instead of a scenario that is likely to occur, we thought it would be interesting to start with one that most respondents think is likely not to happen. The scenario proposes that artificial intelligence algorithms will advance to the point where they become better decision-makers than human judges.
All age cohorts assessed the scenario Improbable. Traditionals assessed it as a 4.2 probability; Baby Boomers and Millennials – 3.9 likelihood; Generation X – 4.0; and Generation Z – 3.6.
9. Court Managers Supervise Four Generations of Staff: HIGHLY LIKELY
Baby Boomers continue to be slow to retire from the office. Court offices now comprise four generations of staff working side-by-side. Each generation has its own “world view” and requires different management approaches.
Traditionals and Gen Xers both assessed the scenario a Highly Likely with a 1.9 probability; Millennials Highly Likely with a 1.6; Baby Boomers Likely with a 2.0, Gen Z Likely with a 2.2.
8. Probation & Pretrial Use Virtual Conferencing to Confer with Probationers & Defendants: HIGHLY LIKELY
Probation and Pretrial Supervision conclude that conducting routine meetings with probationers and defendants virtually is cheaper and more convenient.
All age cohorts assessed the scenario a Highly Likely. Traditionals assessed it as having a 1.2 probability; Baby Boomers – 1.4 likelihood; Generation X – 1.7; Millennials and Generation Z – 1.8.
7. Courts Continue to Struggle with Determining Responsibility, Liability, and Control of Algorithms: LIKELY
Artificial intelligence (AI) based on algorithms has become part of our lives and part of court functions. Applications include pretrial release, sentencing, online dispute resolution, and law enforcement systems such as facial recognition and predictive policing. If an AI algorithm fails to perform as expected, is found to be biased, or is misused, who is legally responsible? Answers to these questions are slow in coming.
All age cohorts assessed the scenario a Likely. Traditionals – 2.2 probability; Baby Boomers – 2.0 likelihood; Generation X and Millennials – 2.1; Generation Z – 2.4.
6. Demand Increases for Open Court Data: HIGHLY LIKELY
Outside organizations increase pressure on courts to make their data freely available. Data ends up being used, re-used, and redistributed by anyone with only minimal requirements.
The overall group assessed the scenario as having a 1.9 probability; Traditionals assessed it a Likely with a 2.2 likelihood; Baby Boomers and Generation Likely – 2.0; Millennial Highly Likely – 1.6; Generation Z Highly Likely − 1.8.
5. Streamlined Expungement Processes Help Convicted Drug Felons: LIKELY
Jurisdictions adopt simplified procedures for expunging convictions allowing individuals to seek jobs and housing without having to answer “yes” to questions about prior felony convictions. This scenario was first surveyed in the Winter of 2018 and assessed a Likely with a 2.4 average probability.
The overall group assessed the scenario as having a 2.1 probability; Traditional and Millennials assessed it as having a 2.0 likelihood; Baby Boomers and Generation X – 2.1; Generation Z – Maybe (50-50 Chance) − 2.8.
4. Courts Provide Interpreter Access for All Cases: LIKELY
Bowing to public pressure and relying on remote interpretation technology, courts provide interpreter services for all cases and at all times during court business hours.
The overall group assessed the scenario as having a 2.2 probability; Traditionals assessed it a Highly Likely with a 1.7 likelihood; the other cohorts assessed the scenario a Likely , Baby Boomers – 2.3 Generation X – 2.0; Millennials and Generation Z − 2.4.
3. Increasingly Frequent Destructive Storms Result in More Reliance on COOPs: LIKELY
From massive snowstorms and then flooding, to devastating forest fires and repeated hurricanes, climate change causes more frequent natural catastrophes. Courts start to regularly rely on their continuity of operations and emergency response plans.
The overall group assessed the scenario as having a 2.0 probability; Traditionals, Baby Boomers, and Generation Z all assessed it a Highly Likely with 1.7, 1.9, and 1.6 probabilities respectively, Generation X, and Millennials assessed it a Likely with 2.1 and 2.0 probabilities.
2. Litigants Turn to Online Legal Advice: HIGHLY LIKELY
Websites and blogs that provide litigants with legal advice and court strategies cover an array of dispute types such as landlord–tenant actions, child custody and support, foreclosures, defaults, traffic and parking tickets, and drunk driving. Demand for attorneys continues to decline.
The overall group assessed the scenario as having a 1.9 probability; Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Z all assessed it a Highly Likely with 1.7, 1.9, 1.9 and 1.6 probabilities respectively, Millennials assessed it a Likely with a 2.0 probability.
1. We Carry Our Smartphones All the Time; They Continually Track Our Locations & Our Lives: HIGHLY LIKELY
Smartphones become irreplaceable for navigating through daily life. They become the key form of personal identification replacing employee and student ID badges. They allow trusted customers to bypass long security checkpoints. They start our vehicles. They replace debit cards, credit cards, and even cash.
While not required to carry one, not having a smartphone becomes so annoying that people rarely go without. As a side feature, smartphones track our locations 24/7 as well as serve as a visual and audio record of our lives.
All the cohorts assessed the scenario a Highly Likely; Traditionals and Baby Boomers – 1.5; Generation X and Millennials – 1.6; Generation Z − 1.4.
We are gearing up for our 2024 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 .
Number of survey responses received
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Number of Responses by Age Cohort
Born before 1945
Born After 1994