Recently student team Olivia Pennoyer ’25 and Omar Abdel-Ghaffar ’25, along with supervisor Prof. Rachel Viscomi ’01, from the Harvard Dispute Systems Design Clinic visited their client at the New Hampshire Judicial Branch (NHJB), in Nashua, NH. As court operations there have shifted back from remote to in-person, court staff and individuals using the court have had increasing opportunities to engage. Court users often experience strong emotions, which they are increasingly bringing into highly charged interactions with court personnel, on the phone or in person. The NHJB Superior and Circuit Courts have engaged the DSD Clinic to make recommendations on how to: 1) improve internal court systems and processes in ways that might address/reduce users’ frustration and, 2) effectively engage court users who are experiencing strong emotions.
“One belief that this trip reaffirmed for me is that as much as you read or talk to people about an issue, there is no substitute for experiencing it yourself,” says Pennoyer. “You will always have preconceived notions, and putting yourself in situations where your notions are challenged is a central aspect of dispute resolution work.”
Pennoyer and Abdel-Ghaffar, will conduct an assessment of the concerns and experiences that are driving these strong emotions, what approaches people take to raising their concerns with court staff, and how these encounters are currently handled by both court users and court staff.