Computers, mediators will aid flow of justice in tomorrow's courtrooms
Atlanta — Settling legal disputes in the future may involve: * A courtroom where certain kinds of cases are resolved by a computer ''judge.''
* Do-it-yourself ''lawyers'' who fill in the blanks in legal forms for such matters as name changes, divorces, and land lot disputes, and then submit the forms to a court themselves.
* Public access to instant computer-printed lists of relevant court decisions - unless lawyers monopolize such rapid information sources, which they are highly paid for now.
* More face-to-face, out-of-court settlements of disputes with the use of mediators who may or may not be lawyers.
As the nation's crowded courts wrestle with backlogs and the ratio of lawyers to the American population continues to rise, these are some of the changes ahead, according to analysts looking to the future.
A key question is whether courts will keep their ''monopoly'' on conflict resolution, says James Dator, political science professor at the University of Hawaii and a consultant to the Hawaiian courts.
If the role of government diminishes, the role of courts may also diminish, he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Dator foresees a greater share of disputes being settled by community boards, most likely with the help of lawyers who may serve as the ''judges.''
For settling ''relatively routine'' disputes in the courtroom of the future, Dator predicts ''the role of a lawyer will be more like a computer programer. The judge will not be a human being; it will be a computer.'' Opposing sides will prepare computer forms, filling in the facts and entering them into the computer for a dispassionate decision. This, he suggests, will work except where ''intent'' is an issue. Appeals judges, however, will continue to be people, he says, insisting that he is not joking about his computer ''judge'' outlook.
Futurist Joseph Coates of Washington, D.C., says there will be a greater use of clergy leaders as mediators or counselors in settling disputes out of court. He is critical of the increased use of legal ''clinics'' over the past several years, where storefront offices offer low-cost legal help primarily on routine matters. Mr. Coates sees this as just another way lawyers are trying to ''tie up'' more people in unnecessary litigation.
It is ''totally irresponsbile '' for the legal community and law schools to have allowed the number of lawyers to expand as rapidly as it has, Coates charges. Instead of more litigation and adversary procedures, conciliaton is needed in society today, he says.
The American Bar Assocation estimates the number of lawyers in the US may increase from approximately 575,000 today to 800,000 by 1990. But Atlanta attorney William R. Ide III, who headed an ABA task force on the changing role of lawyers, says they will be needed for different tasks.
He sees a declining need for lawyers to perform ''cookie cutter'' work such as name changes, property, and domestic disputes. But he sees an increasing role for lawyers in litigating federal regulations on the environment and other complicated subjects.
Mr. Ide does not agree with attorneys who say the adversary system is the only way to protect citizen rights. The rights can also be protected in mediation settlements out of courts, he contends. And ''lawyers can contribute to both systems,'' says Ide.
Meanwhile, in a limited way, computers are already being used to do title searches, prepare wills, and fill out tax forms, based on particular information fed into the computer, says John A. Jenkins, of the Bureau of National Affairs, one of the nation's major legal publishers. Such methods should help lower legal fees for such tasks, he adds.