Digital Courtroom for Superior Court of Los Angeles, California

JUDICIAL TRANSFORMATION FOR THE SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Tech Unicorn is proud to have played a fundamental role in judicial transformation for courts around the world through the development of Unicorn Digital Courtroom. The Superior Court of California in Los Angeles was the first court in the United States to adopt this digital courtroom solution. The court deployed Unicorn Digital Courtroom which allowed it to improve service delivery, increase efficiency, and lower overall costs. It is the largest court in the country, with 600 judges in 400 courtrooms, all successfully using this platform to handle 37,000 hearings per month.

THE CHALLENGE

Tech Unicorn’s virtual courtroom solution, Unicorn Digital Courtroom, was created in mid-2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. The platform was developed when a court from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia approached Microsoft and Tech Unicorn for a solution to record hearings that were conducted on Microsoft Teams. Within 10 days, Tech Unicorn had delivered a working solution that allowed the consolidation of all hearings and digital tools into one inclusive platform. Soon thereafter, the solution was implemented by around 3,600 judges who conducted 7,500 - 10,000 hearings per day. 

We started to engage with court systems in other countries, incorporating their requirements into the solution. “One common problem, we found, was that the people on a video call couldn’t easily tell who’s who—for example, the judge was getting lost within all the other hearing participants,” explained our founder and CEO, Ani Dave. “We realized we had to deliver a high level of visual clarity, which drove development of early UI features such as a virtual bench for the judge.” 

THE SOLUTION

By March of 2021, Tech Unicorn had a robust working application running on both Microsoft Teams and Azure Communication Services, which the Ministry of Justice began to pilot-test in smaller courts. One year later, the Ministry had used Unicorn Digital Courtroom to clear its backlog of 2 million cases. Tech Unicorn began showing its solution to courts around the world, incorporating many of the additional features to meet courtroom requirements.

One such court system was the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. The Court had been working on LA Court Connect (LACC), a self-hosted remote appearance solution, since 2018. The Chief Information Officer for the Court, Snorri Ogata, commented on the shortcomings of this platform explaining that “the backend meeting platform underneath LACC was not built to scale, did not have all the features of a modern meeting platform, and lacked the ability to compensate for packet loss, jitter and other issues associated with inadequate bandwidth at the end points.” As a result, the Court was driven to seek an alternative solution.

During the six months that followed, Tech Unicorn worked collaboratively with the court to define its requirements. Dave and her team traveled to Los Angeles, where they sat alongside judges and court clerks to ensure that the solution’s design and features were aligned with daily operations.

Dave explained that this project included a collaborative process to understand the exact needs of the court staff to create a tailored solution. She recalls that “sitting side-by-side with the court staff gave the team many ideas of how Azure Communication Services could be used to tailor the Teams environment to how they worked. For example, we noticed that one court admin had five windows open on her screen and was constantly switching between apps, while participating in a Teams meeting. This gave us the idea to create control panels for individual roles, with all of them integrated into the court management system.”

By February of 2022, Tech Unicorn was refining development and implementing the final changes requested by the court. The final solution went live with Unicorn Digital Courtroom running on Teams and Azure Communication Services in May 2022. 

THE FINAL RESULT

Through its use of Teams and Azure Communication Services, Tech Unicorn is delivering a full-featured virtual courtroom solution that is optimized for all parties. Hearings can be recorded and archived, transcribed, and translated in real-time, and even streamed live to a larger audience. Evidence can be submitted prior to a hearing in the form of documents, images, and videos, and historical data from previous hearings can be easily accessed. 

Unicorn Digital Courtroom also supports automated reminders and notifications, digital signing of court documents, AI-powered identity verification, and protection of witness identities. APIs are provided for integrating with existing applications, and the entire user experience can be personalized with customized layouts and workflows to meet each court’s unique requirements. 

Improved service delivery & increased efficiency

Virtual hearings and digital courtroom solutions have optimized the court’s efficiency. “A lot of court proceedings are administrative in nature—to help the parties continue to move things along,” explains Ogata. “All of those proceedings are ideal for remote hearings. It’s too early to know how effective remote hearings will be for jury trials but, contrary to what television dramas would have you believe, the percentage of cases that make it to trial are few and far between. In some litigation areas, the switch to remote hearings has made the Court more efficient as measured by backlog and case inventories.” 

Welcoming a world of opportunities 

While the court proceeds with its rollout of Unicorn Digital Courtroom, Dave plans to continue working on further enhancements that can offer additional benefits for clients. “We’re constantly evolving our solution with every new customer,” she says. “It’s a new product in an open space, so there’s lots of opportunity. And the use cases for what we’ve built aren’t limited to courts—Unicorn Digital Courtroom could very easily be adapted to other ‘justice’ venues, such as prisons and corrections, witness protection, juvenile courts, self-help services, probation services, and public defender services.”  

In the beginning, Tech Unicorn had about 15 engineers working on Unicorn Digital Courtroom. Today, the company has about 70. “Azure Communication Services has become a larger part of our solution design as we venture into other markets,” says Dave. “We see opportunities everywhere, including in the healthcare and financial services sectors. Of course, there are also many other public-sector use cases.” We are excited about the opportunity to continue refining our digital solutions for the changing needs of our customers. Our human-centric approach and ability to understand customer needs allow us to adapt a product and its features to fully serve its users. By fusing data, imagination and creativity, we create optimized solutions that give our clients a strong advantage to lead within their industries.

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