In a recent speech at Loyola Law School, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget M. McCormack offered the following observation: Put a surgeon from the 1800s in an operating theater in 2022 and they would be overwhelmed and awed by the technology around them. In contrast, put a lawyer from the 1800s in a courtroom today and they would see only minor differences.

Courts have seen modest operational improvements over the last 100 years, but today they have never been busier and the needs of the people they serve never as complex.

In March 2020, the pandemic closed businesses and governments, but King County Superior Court worked innovatively to remain open. Perhaps the greatest innovation from that effort has been video jury selection, which has dramatically changed court operations.

An immediate question is whether courts can keep video jury selection or whether we return to the “old” days of crowded in-person jury rooms and lengthy wait times. The Washington Supreme Court will answer this soon when it decides whether to adopt a rule allowing video jury selection to continue.

It should remain a permanent option for Washington’s judiciary.

Historically, courts have struggled to use jurors’ time efficiently. Before COVID-19, jurors could wait days at the courthouse in a packed jury room before knowing whether they had been selected. Juror pay was (and is) $10 a day, just like in the 1950s.

Now, with video selection jurors are given a link and asked to appear for 90 minutes. They do not have to take the bus downtown, pay for lunch or use that $10-a-day juror pay for $30-a-day parking. They can perform their civic duty from their homes, offices or schools.

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In King County, thousands of people have participated in video jury selection and hundreds of cases have been tried since COVID began. Lawyers get more time to ask jurors questions and more information about jurors through online questionnaires. While there is no official data on this yet, judges report seeing juries with increased racial, age and physical-ability diversity. And judges with public defense, prosecution and civil backgrounds have found this process equal in fairness to in-person jury selection.

We currently have a huge backlog of criminal trials. The courthouse’s physical jury room holds about 250 people, but the “virtual” jury waiting room is limitless. Trials will not have to wait for more jurors to go forward.

Change often brings resistance and the legal community is no different. There also have been bumps as people learn to unmute and screen share. Fortunately, our collective tech skills are better than they were two years ago and, through collaboration, the legal community has made this new format work.

The “digital divide” is an important concern, namely whether citizens without an internet-connected device can still participate in jury service. The Pew Research Center has noted 97% of Americans have access to cellphones.

All you need in King County to be a prospective juror is the link to log on, Wi-Fi access and a device with a camera.

Jurors who lack internet access but want to serve can come to the courthouse law library and use a county device and its free Wi-Fi, or just come in person to court. As Texas judge Emily Miskel, a national leader in video court appearances, has noted, “before the pandemic, we didn’t send a taxi for every juror who lacked transportation.” In other words, the digital divide should be put in context. Courts will work hard to facilitate participation, and in most cases, if someone wants to serve, they can.

Video jury selection allows more options for participation and respects the time of the thousands of people who show up to do their civic duty. It allows more cases to go to trial and is helping reduce an unprecedented case backlog. And it is safer, because it means fewer people are exposed to risks like COVID or conditions around the downtown courthouse.

This is what the future of courts can look like — something no lawyer from the 1800s could ever have imagined.