Episode 006: Steps to Going Paperless in the Courts

Digitizing the contemporary court space can seem like a colossal task – but the reality is that courts around the country are going paperless every day. So what does it mean for a court to truly be paperless…and even then, how do you get there? Brad Smith, Senior Justice Consultant for ImageSoft, answers these questions and more, putting your paperless jitters to rest once and for all.

Read Transcript
Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity Podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks and know how to solve your biggest workflow challenges, and bring greater productivity into your workplace every day. If you work in the justice community, the term paperless is likely to fill you with one of two emotions, relief because you realize the freedom and efficiency that you will experience as a result, or dread because it means things are about to change. If that second emotion is more relatable, it’s okay. You’re not alone.

But as our world becomes ever more connected, it’s time to take a good look at what it’s really like to digitize today’s court processes and see that perhaps there’s some big advantages to a paperless court, for you, your staff, and your constituents. To borrow a phrase, there’s nothing to fear but paper itself. To help put those jitters to rest once and for all, today we’re walking through the process with someone who knows the path to a paperless court inside and out. Brad Smith is the Senior Justice Consultant for ImageSoft, and he’s helped courts of all sizes and complexities transform from a paper based nightmare into a digital dream. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today, Brad.

Brad Smith: Thanks Kate:.
Kate: Let’s say that there’s a spark of interest within a court in going digital. What do you think is the first thing that the court needs to do when starting that path to paperless?
Brad: Well, I think it’s a matter of getting with some of the stakeholders. There’s a lot of counties, or if you’re in Louisiana they’re parishes, that have spoken for years about trying to get the court, and get the clerks office. They obviously talk about the prosecuting attorney’s office, the sheriff department, and all of those individual stakeholders are a part of this ecosystem. A lot of locations are paper now. But you’re finding more and more.
Podcast Technician: You want to be talking into the mic.
Kate: Just a little closer. Yep.
Podcast Technician: Yeah, of if you want …
Kate: Lift it up.
Podcast Technician: It might be easier to, if you want to move the whole base. I’m just trying to think. I get where you’re going. You want to be looking at her, so then let’s move. Just pick up, and then we’ll move that there and do that.
Brad: Okay.
Kate: Nice, okay.
Brad: Does that look better? Does that sound better?
Podcast Technician: Yeah. You want to be talking right straight into the front.
Kate: We were talking about … I’ll start off with that. Let’s just start off with that question. Let’s say there’s a spark of interest. Okay. I’ll start that over. And then you can just go right back to the stakeholders.
Brad: Yeah. That’s great.
Kate: Okay. Let’s say that there’s a spark of interest within a court in going digital. What do you think is the first thing that court needs to do when starting that path to paperless?
Brad: Well, I think it really begins with the stakeholders in the courts market. And the courts market is larger than we all think. I think sometimes they think it’s just the court. But in that stakeholders, there’s the clerks. There’s certainly the judges in the court. There’s the prosecuting attorneys. There’s the sheriff. State and local agencies, for example, probation departments, the jail. You have other particular departments that currently are in the paper world, there’s a lot of workflow. But you’re finding people that are starting to at least wanting to do electronic filing. So once you start the electronic filing, or if the clerk has started to scan, we have an electronic document that needs to be sent to these other departments, and we’re really trying to make sure that everyone is on the same page when we’re going to do this process.
Kate: Yeah. I imagine it’s kind of hard to get everything into a seamless process if you don’t have everyone on board.
Brad: That is true. First of all, you’ve got the clerks. And they’re excited about … Maybe not exciting, but they’re scanning. They’re taking documents electronically. Electronic filing started back in 1990 with Lexis Nexis. That was a project that started with CLAD, complex litigated automated docket. They were doing it, so that’s great for the attorneys. The attorneys are electronically filing. And what’s ironic, if you even look at today’s eco structure, paralegal, legal assistant, the attorneys, they create the document electronically. They convert it to paper, so they can bring it on over to the clerk’s office, so they can scan it and then put it in a paper folder. And then they’re taking that paper folder, then delivering it on to the judge. And so just by the very nature, what we like to say at ImageSoft, if it starts electronic, let’s keep it electronic.
Kate: Absolutely. It just seems to make more sense, and to make it just all flow a little bit better. Okay. We’ve opened the door with these officials. And they’re starting to take a serious look at how their court would operate in this new process. How do we take it to the next level? How do we get them to really see the benefits of going paperless?
Brad: Well, there’s several steps. We basically call it the five steps, but it could be four steps. It could be three or two, depending on what you want. But probably the most important one is identifying the pain points. There are certain individuals, the moment you meet with them and you say, “Okay. Where is the information coming in electronic? And where is it converted to paper? Or is it coming in paper, then you’re scanning it?” And so we try to identify those pain points as much as possible. And then where does the path go? For example, if someone gets pulled over for a drunk driving offense, so the sheriff is involved or the police is involved, and then of course you’re going to get the prosecuting attorney’s office, they’re involved. Then you’re going to get the clerk. And then you’re going to get the court. And then you’re going to get the secretary of state. And then you’re going to get the Department of Motor Vehicles.

All of those individual departments are getting information. And it starts with an electronic version. It’s the same person, and it’s going to all those different locations. But you want to make sure that, that work flow, that it shouldn’t start electronic, go to paper, then reenter it electronic, and go to paper, and so on and so forth.

Kate: Yeah. Now I’d imagine there’s also a pretty sizable financial component to printing all those documents, especially all those touch points you just mentioned. I mean, when you really walk through the process and you really think it through, you realize that there’s a lot of different areas here. There’s probably many cases where things are being printed out multiple times. Is that something that perhaps is a bit more tangible for the courts to actually see how much paper is being generated, and what the benefit is by reducing that number?
Brad: Yeah. There has been cost studies, actually, over the years. There was one that was called Justice Link, and it was a study in Maryland where they were just … A lot of times, they didn’t have the idea of: How much is it costing our staff? How much is it costing for storage? How much are we doing actually paying for moving paper? In that study, I think it was Arlington, Virginia. Sorry. Maybe it was Maryland. But at the end of the day, they were spending a million dollars just in time and effort and moving paper around.
Kate: Oh my goodness.
Brad: Certainly, when you can go and get this to an electronic storage, I think everyone is a little bit more excited. The dollars are just amazing in terms of the savings.
Kate: That would be including the cost of employing a person, people that are managing this, their time and effort.
Brad: Correct.
Kate: As well as the paper itself, right?
Brad: Yes.
Kate: It’s all those things together. Wow. That’s incredible.
Brad: There was a National Center study, which showed that if you were doing a combination of paper and electronic, that it cost on average for every piece of paper that you process in your jurisdiction, 69 cents per page. If they could get to a completely electronic process, and that’s from the attorneys, from the pro se litigants, to the clerk, to the judge, they found that cost went to 11 cents per page.
Kate: Oh my goodness. That’s incredible. What is one way that courts could begin to calculate that cost? How can they start to determine that and see where some of their savings might be? Again, perhaps for the purpose of convincing those stakeholders and helping them to see that value, where would they start?
Brad: Well, I think what they would end up doing is just start to look at how much they’re just paying to store documents. There’s two different ways. Sometimes they store the documents in a basement. Sometimes they store if off site because they just don’t have enough room in the basement. And then they also pay for a thing called Iron Mountain, which typically is older archived documents that, once in a blue moon maybe something comes up on appeal that they go and need to retrieve that. There is a lot of dollars that are fixed dollars that they can look at their budget and say, “Okay. We’re spending this much money for just storing the documents,” when now … It was interesting because in the government market, if you were to talk about storing things in the cloud, there’s just a fear factor.

I don’t have care, custody, and control of these documents. Well, the fact is, they almost ask you that right up front. It’s more that fear factor has gone away. Aside from the tangible, okay, we’re spending this much just to store the documents. And then also, if they just look at the time of their labor. For example, if I’m scanning a document, a document comes in in paper, and then they have to take those documents. They have to prepare the documents to be scanned. They have to count the pages. They have to index it properly to say, “Okay. Here’s a motion to dismiss. Here’s an exhibit.” They need to go ahead and scan that information in, reassemble, put it in a court folder.

And so I was in a location down in Texas last year where they had new employees. And they were coming in, and there was a chart that was all of the steps that were required to do some scanning. And in that chart, it was basically blocking off three hours of time.

Kate: Wow. And multiple people, it sounds like it.
Brad: Yes. Oh, absolutely.
Kate: It’s not just one person’s job. This is multiple people do that.
Brad: Correct.
Kate: That’s where you start to see that cost really start to expand.
Brad: Yes. And normally, clerk staff is assigned by judge. If I’m a fairly large jurisdiction, maybe there’s 10 to 15 judges, there’s one clerk responsible for gathering up the court folders for the morning docket, and then delivering it to the court, and then also gathering up the documents for the afternoon docket. And oh, it’s a total nightmare if the judge actually wants to keep that court folder in their chamber to prepare for the afternoon docket. From the morning until the evening, all they’re doing is just moving paper.
Kate: You touched on something that we actually covered in another episode with Kevin Ledgister where we talked about … You said there was a little bit of that fear factor with having things in the cloud. But it’s because they don’t have care and custody of those documents. They can’t physically see them and ensure that they’re okay because it’s floating in the cloud. Right?
Brad: Right.
Kate: But he talked about how if there is some sort of a natural disaster, and not even a natural disaster, just something where … I think you gave the example of a company potluck, an office potluck. And something burns a little bit, sets off the smoke alarms and the sprinklers, and damage those documents that the cost of replacing those documents ends up being just as much as what it would cost to implement an electronic system.
Brad: Well, that’s totally on point. We look at the fires that are going on in California. And of course, the hurricanes that have come through this year, and you have certain locations. In Biloxi, Mississippi years ago, literally the entire courthouse was just eliminated.
Kate: Oh my goodness.
Brad: And so yeah, you’re going to have that. And you’re also getting the other individuals that are sitting back and saying, “Okay. Well, I don’t have an IT staff. I can’t have servers be delivered and put in my office space. I don’t have the ability to go and worry about patch Tuesday.” As we’re trying to keep the servers up and running, and so the idea of storing it in a cloud and in a secure environment, heck, between Azure with Microsoft, and you have Amazon, there’s a lot of reliable sources. Even some states have their own basically cloud environments as well, so they can kind of at least delay some of the fears of someone saying, “Okay. Well, I don’t really trust the big boys. I certainly would trust our IT department and our own state.”
Kate: Yeah. I imagine there’s a lot of different ways that you can work with those different storage systems. But when it’s physical, you’re kind of locked into one way and one way only.
Brad: Right.
Kate: And that risk is maybe not as secure as you think it is.
Brad: Right. It’s interesting because the whole courts market in itself is based on precedence and based on tradition and certain ways of doing things. I think we’re turning the corner though.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. Now we’re beginning to see the whole picture coming together now. Right? The time savings, the money savings. What are some ways that courts can realize those savings on a regular basis by implementing and operating on a paperless system?
Brad: Well, I think it really starts with deciding, to me personally, I find that when a jurisdiction decides to go with electronic filing, it kind of all starts there. And so when some states, you would find that they’re a little reluctant to do electronic filing. Normally, that occurs with jurisdictions that have decentralized locations, so they’re not all in the same boat. If we start with electronic filing, again, I gave that scenario where a document is created electronic certainly by the attorneys and the paralegals and legal assistants, it comes in. If it’s stored electronically, we can automatically index it. We can automatically collect the statuary fees. It goes directly to the judge. We have solutions available that allows the judges to view those documents and gives them the features and functionality, which normally would be associated with working with their papers. Although they’re electronic, they can make notes, they can make sticky notes. They can do anything and everything that they would’ve done with paper. It’s just a little bit more efficient.
Kate: Okay. Nice. Well, that’s really great. It sounds like there’s just a lot of different options. As you start to consider the process, the different ways that you can implement it based on your particular court’s systems, the way that it is set up. It sounds like there’s just many different ways that this is going to start to come together. As that fear starts to become eliminated and people start to realize the benefits start to really outweigh the fears or some of the concerns that they might have. Thank you so much for sharing these tips today, Brad. I think that everyone’s starting to really see what a huge advantage it is for the courts and for the people they serve by implementing a digital system. Where can our listeners go to really dive into this topic and perhaps connect with someone who can guide them in the process?
Brad: Well, certainly being the consultant for our company, we would love to have you reach out to us. You can certainly go to imagesoftinc.com. And there’s different areas. We have people that are for the clerks, questions for the courts, questions for the prosecuting attorneys, questions for the sheriffs, questions. Certainly, most people just don’t know where to start. And I think that what we try to do is at least provide some guidance and be able to bring some of our expertise in the market to at least give them a place to start and find that path to paperless.
Kate: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Brad. And thanks to everyone for joining us for another episode of Paperless Productivity. If you haven’t already, please hit that subscribe button so that you’re ready for our next episode, where we’ll once again tackle some of your biggest challenges and celebrate the victories in the path to paperless. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This podcast is sponsored by ImageSoft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about at imagesoftinc.com. That’s imagesoft I-N-C.com. Join us next time where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, supercharge efficiency, and accomplish your organization’s goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *