Service Design Research Project
Heads of Court Administration

As lawyers' fees increase and access to free legal aid diminishes, staff at courthouses across Canada have to deal with a steady rise in the number of self-represented litigants, who struggle to understand the court process.

The Challenge

Litigants, who often have little or no experience within the justice system, pose unique challenges to registry and administrative staff, and often struggle to navigate a world that was built for legal professionals and judiciary.

The Heads of Court Administration (HoCA) is a federal-provincial-territorial body that provides pro-active leadership and advice on policy, strategic and operational issues, and court process simplification and transformation, which impact the delivery of court services across Canada. They understood that systems and services at courthouses need to adapt to accommodate self-represented litigants, and asked Number 41 to help them find out where to start.

Services Provided on this Project

Behavioural Interviews

Both open-ended and directed, these conversations with end users and stakeholders help us determine the needs of the people who will actually use our final products, and incorporate their feedback into our work.

Observational Research

We make an effort to go on the road and observe users in context to get a sense of how they actually engage with services or experience a product. We can watch their level of frustration or satisfaction in person.

Service Design

Following extensive research, our design team considers all elements of a service's current and potential delivery, and conceives of ways to enhance users' experiences and results.

Prototype Development

Our design and development teams are able to produce working prototypes, featuring advanced functionality and visual designs, to use during testing sessions.

The Research

Through our research, we found out where these individuals struggle the most, and developed a framework for solving common service challenges in Canadian courthouses. This process included research trips to 17 Canadian courthouses (from provincial courts to the Supreme Court of Canada) to gain a better understanding of service practices, physical space, forms, and supporting information, and the associated service experiences.

Over the course of that extensive discovery phase, our research team talked to people engaged with the justice system, from litigants and lawyers, to courthouse staff and judges.

Contextual interviews and observations helped us identify common hurdles for both members of the public, and the staff members that they interact with.

The Delivery

We identified key challenges for courthouse visitors, including wayfinding issues and forms that use complicated legal language. Then we created journey maps to show key pain points and identified potential opportunities to improve services. We followed that up with recommendations on how to improve upon their service experience and developed and tested two prototypes based on those improvement opportunities, returning to courthouses in Halifax to watch users interact with them in context.


Personas are fictional individuals created to represent the needs, motivations, and challenges felt and experienced by real users. The personas created for this project were based on observations and anecdotal information seen and heard at courthouses across Canada. By mapping their specific journeys through the courts system, we gained a better understanding of typical experiences from beginning to end.

Journey maps

Journey maps were used to document the experience of self-represented litigants, helping to understand their interactions and identify areas for improvement.

An all-in-one resource

An expanded divorce forms kit provides context and guidance for anyone beginning the divorce process. We put together a kit with everything needed to correctly fill out and submit divorce forms.

Forms anyone can understand

A small claims form that uses plain language and clear layout, so understanding legal jargon isn't necessary. Self-represented individuals can fill out forms with confidence.

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