Thoughts of a Circuit Court Clerk

166_homerWe’re excited to share this heart-felt guest blog courtesy of our friend and client Paul Ferguson, Clerk of the Circuit Court in Arlington, VA.

When the Arlington Circuit Court decided to move from paper to electronic files in 2011, our first step was finding a technology partner that listened to our goals, could help us achieve them, and be fun to work with along the way.  We were fortunate to find all of that in ImageSoft, whose team was able to transition us over to a paperless system with ease and continues to support us with software updates and excellent customer service.

Benefits Beyond the Price Tag

Project Paperless” has empowered Arlington to achieve all of its goals, and then some! Yes, the cost savings have been nice. We no longer need to worry about purchasing case folders, use much less paper, and have considerably cut our postage costs. However, the benefits of ImageSoft’s solution and support system have been much more than financial for us.

OnBase, the enterprise content management system (ECM) implemented by ImageSoft, allows staff to route filings and documents to the proper person and place in a matter of minutes. With validated permissions, judges, attorneys, staff, and the public can all access the same file at the same time.

After working with the solution for a while, it was only natural that we would have some feedback as to what we could build upon to better serve the needs of our office. Both our judges and staff have suggested various upgrades and changes over the years, which ImageSoft has always welcomed and delivered on in an effective, timely manner.

ImageSoft also introduced us to electronic filings, which is now our preferred way of processing files. Thanks to ImageSoft’s TrueFiling, about 20 percent of our cases are now eFiled. Just this one change has delivered great time savings for our staff, faster turnaround for the public, and convenience for attorneys.

If you would like to learn more specifics about our office’s paperless transformation, I encourage you to take a quick read through our case study.

What’s Next?

While our system is meeting all our needs at the moment, it’s reassuring to know we have ImageSoft as a partner to call on for whatever and whenever our goals change.

It’s hard to remember what life was like six years ago before we knew “project paperless” was even a possibility. Arlington’s Circuit Court staff, judges, and attorneys appreciate the hand-in-hand support and forward-moving opportunity that ImageSoft has given us, and we are all very excited for what’s to come!

Paul Ferguson
Clerk of the Circuit Court
Arlington, VA and City of Falls Church, VA

 

When Failed Integration Turns into Wrongful Incarceration

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

Unless you’re a part of the super cool, niche group of people that doesn’t talk much but, when you do, it’s about software, you probably don’t get too pumped up about the word “integration.” We, on the other hand, could talk about the transformative effects of powerfully integrative software until our smartwatches tell us to go home. Even then, we would stay late to show you a fun demo, but most people will have left by then anyways.164_Chance_go_to_jail

So when real-world examples of preventable integration fails have life-changing impacts on innocent people, we get all riled up.

What to Say When You’re Being Arrested for a Dismissed Case?

Not me. Well, that’s what one of the nation’s biggest names in software development is trying to say after its court case management system was the reason for dozens of defendants in a very populous county being wrongly accused, arrested, jailed, and even registered as sex offenders.

Worse yet, these incidents are not isolated. Distressed by the same errors, numerous courts across the nation are responding to the county’s claims with “us too!”

How Could This Happen?

We thought you’d never ask! Let us explain. Again.

Integration is key when trying to successfully leverage any software. This is especially crucial in court cases where real-time information about prisoners and warrants needs to flow statewide among prisons, officers, courts, and more.

In situations like the above, failure to integrate with a court’s case management system means mistakes. Big ones. A lot of them. This is because the same case information lives in multiple systems across the criminal justice system, but updating that information at the sheriff’s office doesn’t update it for the court. And vice versa.

Simply put, the case management systems among the courts, prisons, police departments, etc., can’t talk to one another if they’re not integrated. When this happens, the status quo of a case isn’t clarified across the board and people act based only on the information they have. Cue wrongful arrests.

So Integration is Just a Group Chat?

Not quite. By integrating case management systems, the efficiency of your processes and the integrity of your data are both strengthened. Not only is data safely stored and accessible by all authorized parties, you never have to re-key information into multiple systems. Once the data is in, it’s everywhere it needs to be and always up-to-date.

When you’re processing nearly 1,000 cases per week (as most counties do), the time and money saved by having an integrated software is kind of a big deal.

Ready for Integration That’s On Point?

We’ve helped hundreds of criminal justice systems throughout the country stay in immediate and constant communication by exchanging data and documents among law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and more with just the click of a button.

How so? Through our eFiling technology for civil courts, our LEAP portal for criminal filings, and with a little help from our friend OnBase by Hyland. OnBase has standard APIs that allow for the secure exchange of data and documents with virtually any system.

But more important than the technology, we’re a company that loves to do integrations – it’s in our DNA, and we can’t help but to take the lead on working with your technology vendors to get you where you need to be.

And if you ever want to stick around for that fun demo, we know a few people who would be happy to show you!

After hearing what has happened to innocent people in several courts across the country, do you feel your court is vulnerable to the same miscommunication? How could the components of your case management system be more in sync?

A Crash Course: EFSPs and EFMs Explained the ImageSoft Way

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

163_confusion

When you decide to roll out state-wide eFiling, you’ll start hearing a lot of E-words. “EFSP,” “EFM” and pretty much e-everything. Eeek, we know! Confusing as all the acronyms and terminology can be, being versed in this knowledge will be the difference between optimizing the most of your digital toolbox or keeping your state’s filers e-ternally confused.

Spending a few minutes on this short crash course will set you on the path to understanding what’s available for optimizing state-wide efficiency.

EFSP 101

Despite being thrown off by the acronym, your eFilers know EFSPs all too well. E-Filing service providers are the user interfaces that attorneys, pro se litigants, prosecutor’s offices and all other eFilers use to submit filings and new case requests to the court. EFSPs act as an “online clerk” augmenting and mimicking the filing process at the counter, with the added flexibility of anytime, anywhere filing. The EFSP also provides up-to-the-minute status updates on filings and keeps transaction history at a filer’s fingertips.

EFM 101

Once filed with an EFSP, the data is sent to the appropriate eFiling Manager. Also known as the clerk’s FilingReview interface, EFMs act as traffic managers for incoming filings from one or more EFSPs exposing and enforcing the court requirements for the data and documents.  The EFM also manages the roles and security rights of court personnel managing the filings. If integrated, the EFM can also exchange this data with the case and document management systems of the respective courts.

EFSP and EFM: Working Together

Now that you understand the function of each, let’s watch them work together.

ESFPs are your filers first point of contact. From there, ESFPs transmit information to EFMs, or clerks, who will sort the eFiled data and move it along. If, for example, a jurisdiction was using different CMS/DMS for different court types, EFSPs could feed the multiple EFMs to get the job done.

The collaboration of EFSPs and EFMs is also very fruitful. First and foremost, it empowers filers with flexibility and options in terms of where and when they want to file, which translates into five-star customer service. In terms of cost savings, travel between the courts is eliminated, and so are the expenses of postage, paper, and ink. Truly the gift that keeps on giving, optimal customer service and multi-faceted cost savings is shared by all filers and the courts.

One great example of the collaborative power between EFSPs and EFMs is TrueFiling. A web-based portal for electronic filing, TrueFiling’s primary components are the EFSP and EFM, and the payment processor. It’s also ECM-conformant to support standard integrations, and powerful enough to serve and support highly-configurable and multi-jurisdictional needs.

Together with OnBase, TrueFiling is the preferred eFiling solution for courts, attorneys, and pro se litigants across the nation. The standard for enterprise content management (ECM), OnBase is a secure storehouse and workflow hub for all your data storage and communication needs.

The ImageSoft Way

Don’t sweat it if your court is already working with existing EFSPs or EFMs (or both!). Our innovative approach to implementation accounts for that and can integrate existing EFSPs to TrueFiling’s EFM, or vica versa, with an ECF-conformant link.

As a matter of fact, TrueFiling and OnBase solutions were designed specifically to accommodate several types of eFiling court configurations:

TrueFiling Hosted Courts: For courts new to eFiling, ImageSoft’s hosted TrueFiling and OnBase solutions will be used for filing and managing electronic documents.

Local On-Premise Courts: For courts that have already invested in an EDMS, ImageSoft provides the option to use either a hosted or local filing review while archiving and storing all eFiled documents in OnBase.

Third-Party Hosted Courts: Courts currently using an EFM from a different vendor will receive ImageSoft support for its third-party EFMs and EFSPs while eFiled documents are archived and stored in either OnBase or the court’s existing repository.

Choosing TrueFiling also means added value with the electronic commerce module, which allows filers access to court-approved electronic case files. With the electronic commerce module, courts can give filers the option of viewing and/or purchasing the entire list of filings associated with a case.

Tell Me More About TrueFiling!

Whether you feel that TrueFiling is definitely right for you, or you just want to learn more about all things “e,” send us a message. Our product experts and representatives love to chat about e-everything.

If you’re already using eFiling, how could you take efficiency to the next step? If you’re not, what’s holding you back?

 

 

Cheers to Five Years: Arlington County Circuit Court Celebrates 5 Years of Paperless Processes

ArlingtonCountyOffice

It was 2013 and Fourth of July week when Arlington County Circuit Court’s criminal division was wearing bright blue shirts. Unlike the patriotic color, the shirt’s slogan that read “Project Paperless – Ask Us What This Means!” may not have immediately resonated with independence, but it was definitely a victory cry. Arlington County Circuit Court was preparing to liberate themselves from paper, and that kind of freedom was something they wanted everyone to celebrate.

Strategically planned on the week that many would be vacationing, the clerk’s office was open every day, but only for half a day. Doing so allowed the employees to lean into their learning curve without interrupting the public. But after pouring three-months of dedication into this new way of life, the staff began to lose morale. They had assumed that, by now, everything should have been flowing easily, but they were still moving along the learning curve.

Kudos for Coffee

Feeling that everyone could use a pick-me-up, the clerk’s office introduced Kudos for Coffee to its internal staff.

Each week, staff could email a sentence or two outlining a positive feature of their new paperless style. One winner was chosen, won a Starbucks gift card, and had their encouraging words posted in the office for all to see. “It reframed their mindset,” said Christina Dietrich, Business Systems Analyst at Arlington County Circuit Court. “Everyone was rallying together to focus on all the good that had come from this transition.”

This Calls For Sheet CakesArlingtonCountyCake

Before they knew it, Arlington County Circuit Court had been paperless for a full year. Then two, then three, then four. Each year, the office had recognized another year paperless by wearing “Project Paperless” shirts or throwing a pizza party. But when their fifth-year anniversary started approaching, the clerk’s office called for wide-spread celebration.

Unlike past anniversaries, the office invited their constituents and public to share in the festivities. Invitations were sent to eFiling attorneys through their local Bar association, and signs were posted on the kiosks and in the courthouse. “Happy Anniversary” banners were hung in public-facing areas, and each division was able to slogan, decorate and dawn their own cake. The criminal, civil, and land record divisions, as well as the public law library, all pulled together to design four festive sheet cakes for attendees. Each spoke encouraging phrases like “Project Paperless: Where Less Is Really More!” and “Forests are green, oceans are blue, we went paperless for the earth, me and you!” And yes, the exuded excitement was truly contagious. By the time The Project Paperless Party had arrived, sheriffs, attorneys, eFilers, and more began to shuffle in at 9:30 a.m. for a piece of cake from the paperless system that had given them all peace of mind for the past five years.

AlringtonCountyPoemCakeAnd because Kudos for Coffee was such a big hit, it was brought back for the entire week of the five-year anniversary. But instead of keeping it as an internal raffle for one winner, the public was welcomed to participate, and three winners were awarded. Submissions had also changed from simple statements of “I don’t have to carry buckets of files into court anymore” to well-thought-out poems, haikus, and other creative ways of illustrating their love for being paperless. One person even entered a hole-puncher and asked “do you recognize this? It used to be an integral part of assembling files, but it’s completely disappeared since going paperless!”

By the end of the week, Kudos for Coffee had awarded three different attorneys with a free remote subscription to TrueFiling for up to one year.ArlingtonCountyLessIsMore

“I don’t think we’ll throw big celebrations like this every year, but we will recognize our paperless anniversary each year,” said Christina. “It truly is worthwhile to step back and compare where we were to where we’ve come. It’s good to celebrate that accomplishment.”

A Truly Justified Celebration

Since going paperless in 2013, Arlington County Circuit Court has seen a roughly 20 percent increase in its filings. Best yet, the paperless system’s efficiency allows the court to manage its increased case volume without also increasing its headcount. In the last year alone, the court has seen a 19 percent increase in its number of electronically filed documents.

And while we all may not be able to party paperless like Arlington, we can certainly learn from their story: small changes make huge impacts, and that’s something to celebrate.

 

Scammers in the System: Florida Enforces Stricter eFiling Security Measures

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

156_escammerThere’s always one.

After a scammer was able to hack an attorney’s eFiling account and take off with $130,000, Florida Courts E-Filing Authority was understandably shaken. Realizing such a vulnerability in its midst, the board quickly removed all non-lawyer eFiling accounts, which included the right-hand people of many lawyers – office managers.

Office managers typically rely on the eFiling portals to assist their law firms with managing cases, tracking files and payments, and more. Rather than creating their own account, many attorneys rely on their office managers’ accounts to perform their eFilings.

While there are still secure systems in place for pro se litigants and other non-lawyers to eFile, Florida lawyers will now have to submit their electronic files through an account attached to their bar number. If an attorney wishes to create any additional accounts, they will need to undergo a more extensive inspection by portal operators.

Speaking of Security…

Prior to eFiling, paper files were literally tossed a clerk’s desk where they sat until they were processed. Anyone could have picked up the file and stolen a client’s identity or other sensitive information. Developed to be more efficient and protective than paper-reliant processes, eFiling added an extra layer of armor to the security of every file. In such a technologically advanced era, eFiling must continuously evolve to strengthen its cybersecurity tactics.

A prime example of this is TrueFiling by ImageSoft, which just released its 3.0 version. With a continued focus on scam-proofed security measures, TrueFiling’s format is now similar to that of LinkedIn: Filers can send connection requests to other clients, attorneys, office managers, and more, and an accepted request will exist as consent between the two or more users. This step ensures that users cannot slyly add another contact as a service recipient. Filers must first be connected with one another as to acknowledge them as a party on a specific case.

Another TrueFiling security measure is the use of an administrative account for a law firm. Any person who registers to eFile as a representative of a law firm must be approved by an eFiling administrator of the law firm. This extra step enables the support staff to continue doing their job under their own, approved accounts, which actually strengthens security since attorneys aren’t sharing their passwords and account information with anyone. And with TrueFiling’s full audit trail, you can track and hold accountable those who were working on a file. If an entire office’s support staff is sharing and working under one attorney’s account, all that’s known is that “someone” was working on the file. With TrueFiling, there is no gray area – only full transparency.

Stepping toward upped security, TrueFiling also requires every filer be a registered user with an e-mail address. Sure, scammers could try to fake an email address to look like an attorney, but eFiling would then take some extra steps. By integrating TrueFiling’s software with that state’s Bar, the user’s bar number would have to be validated before he or she is deemed a registered user. You could further enhance the system’s functionality to only allow one bar number per user, which would be more than sufficient since support staff would maintain their own accounts.

Avoiding Future Flubs Everywhere

The connection-request process or law firm administrative oversight demands approval and accountability through each step of the eFiling process. This empowers attorneys to better protect their clients by harnessing complete control over who is accessing their cases and files. By applying this checks-and-balances type system, every eFiling application can avoid a scammer slithering into their case in the first place. And allow assistants to file on behalf of an attorney.

What security checkpoints does your court’s, office’s, or law firm’s eFiling system use?

3 Reasons Why You’re Not eFiling and How to Overcome the Challenges

60_progressElectronic filing means switching up a workflow process that’s been utilized for decades in the courts and government industry, where change isn’t always welcome. But if change makes your job easier and increases access to justice for your constituents, why not eFile?

If you’re pondering the idea, let’s run through your list of eFiling doubts so you don’t delay the possible easy life.

1. Courts can’t afford to replace the case management system

The infrastructure in many of the courts is archaic and if a court’s case management system was last installed in 1985, it’s far from current. Many clerks think they have to replace their case management system—a huge expense and time commitment.

Overcome the challenge:

We will integrate with your current technology using our electronic filing solution, so you don’t have to buy all new. In most cases, we can find ways to connect to your application where we can pull data and we have worked with case management vendors to update their software so that information flows in both directions, reducing the keying and extra steps to keep the systems in sync. ImageSoft is one of a few companies that embraces interoperability and we send eFiling documents and metadata to any document management system.

Our electronic filing solution, TrueFiling, was developed to integrate with any case management system new and old. This technology allows litigants to electronically file case documents, such as pleadings, motions and petitions. The clerk staff now has an intake queue to review the electronically filed documents to make sure the parties filed the documents in the correct case. Once accepted, the statutory fees are collected, the case management system is updated, the electronic image is stored in the document management system, simplifying the intake process. When eFiling allows clerks to review a queue and accept documents electronically without having to scan them it’s a huge time saver.

2. Judges don’t see the benefits of using electronic records in the courtroom

Many judges are reluctant to bring technology into the courtroom. There is still comfort in having a clerk print out documents and deliver folders to their chambers for the day’s court cases. And if judges prefer a paper folder the clerks have to go and print material they didn’t even have to index or scan in the first place. You end up printing out everything, putting in a court folder which ends up in a court filing room, so you can cart the day’s files to the judge.

Overcome the challenge:

Even if judges aren’t ready, you and the other clerks get huge benefits in being able to pull and organize data. We can still make your life easier by narrowing in on the specific documents needed with our eFiling and OnBase solution. Our system automatically can pull court docket information from your case management system and create docket folders by case, date and judge with the appropriate filings. And if you need to provide additional documents for the judge, any related case documents that are stored in our system are only a click away for easy sorting and filtering. You can save tremendous time with our eFiling solution when the documents and data you need are organized and automated the day you need to get them to the judge.

3. You don’t want to add more work for the clerks

With rapid turnover with clerks and retiring government staffers, the courts have to do more with less people. In a typical court, multiple clerks may get filings that come in with stacked papers and divvy up the work and track it and then file the folders and possibly stamp them.

Overcome the challenge:

You may think you don’t have an effective way to manage documents, but we solve this with our powerful Filing Review feature, providing a way to manage the process. First, instead of having a different track for paper and electronic filings, we provide a solution to digitize all of your paper filings so that you only have one process to manage. You can assign work electronically or allow the system to balance out the work. And if a clerk is out sick, a simple drag-and-drop reassigns the work. All files are managed electronically, consistently and mundane tasks are automated, so more filings can be handled with the same number of people.

With our eFiling systems we are making your life easier and taking away the pain of printing and copying paper. We automate the process of the credit card fee and we electronically route documents around the court based on rules. And with a push of a button a judge can sign a document electronically decreasing turn-around time tremendously. You easily expand your electronic records capability with eFiling without putting an extra burden on your clerk staff.

What’s been your biggest challenge keeping you from eFiling?

eFiling is Coming Soon to your State – The Advantages of Mandatory vs. Permissive eFiling

By Brad Smith, Senior Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

When I started working on my first state and local court electronic filing project in 1998, I truly felt that it would be adopted much like computer assisted legal research offered by LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Here we are, nearly 20 years later, and state and local courts are finally dipping their toes into the eFiling water. iStock_000011704687_Medium

Unlike the Federal Courts CM/ECF (Case Management / Electronic Files) system which started mandating electronic filing in the early 2000s, state courts have struggled with adopting electronic filing, let alone making the decision to mandate eFiling for civil and criminal cases.

Texas launched an eFiling portal in 2003, which allowed for permissive eFiling on a county-by-county basis. What the state realized after 10-plus years of “go-lives” and an 18 percent adoption rate, is that permissive eFiling is a nightmare for the attorneys, Clerk of Courts offices and the judges.


Click here for more information on JusticeTech TrueFiling™

For the attorneys and their staff, it becomes very difficult to keep track of which cases or jurisdictions allow for eFiling and which do not. For firms operating statewide in Texas, for example, that would mean your legal assistants / paralegals would need to monitor cases in all 254 counties.

For Clerk of Courts, permissive eFiling presented challenges as well. The office processes an incredible number of cases each year and workflow is critical to keeping the court records accurate and available to the public, attorneys and judges in their jurisdiction. In the permissive environment, the clerk’s staff now needs to operate both a paper workflow queue and an electronic workflow queue to maintain the court records, which adds time and complexity to their jobs.

Even judges, who traditionally use paper court files even when their clerk’s office has taken the time and effort to scan over the counter filings, do not have timely access to electronic court records in a permissive eFiling environment. The steps that are required to convert paper pleadings into electronic images (intake, scan and file) can take up to 24 hours, while eFiled pleadings processed by the clerks’ staff are immediately accessible to the judges via their document management system or judicial dashboard.

The Advantages of Mandated eFiling

Just in the last four years, Florida (Civil and Criminal) and Texas (Civil) have mandated eFiling, while Indiana and Illinois have released mandatory eFiling schedules for 2017 and 2018. While it’s not surprising news by itself, the fact that these mandates are taking place in states that do not have a statewide case management system is encouraging.

It is my hope that the next wave of states in the early eFiling planning stages use the lessons learned by their Supreme Court / Administrative Office of the Courts colleagues and bypass permissivie eFiling to move straight to mandatory eFiling, which will benefit all stakeholders involved.

Which approach has your court considered?

 

Happy Halloween

116_men-in-blackOne of the great motifs of the “Men in Black” movies is the human disguises used by aliens. A perfectly normal looking human turns out to be a sort of robot or exo-skin for some alien inside who is driving the apparatus. The allure of being able to wear a young, buff, fully-coifed humanoid exterior could in fact appeal to me; but that’s another story. For an alien, life in a human-suit draws a lot less attention. It’s like Halloween every day.

How many judges, court managers, court staff, and court records users live most of their lives in a snappy, graphic, touch-screen electronic world, only to have to deal with an ancient (if venerable) Court Management System (CMS) that is monochromatic, text-only, keyboard-driven and is based on codes that only the long-time insiders can decipher? It’s not that the information management function provided by the old CMS isn’t vital. It is. It’s just not very attractive, very accessible, very easy to use, or very extensible by modern standards. Worst of all, it almost certainly doesn’t handle ALL the information management functions; things like document management, E-Commerce, workflow, and so on.

One solution, of course, would be to replace that old CMS with a spiffy new one that has all the new bells and whistles. Frankly, that’s not a bad idea. However, that’s sometimes not practical. Barriers like cost, process change, technical support staff, to name a few, litter the real world of court managers.

Imagine if the old CMS could look like, act like, and (to some extent) change like a much more full-featured, modern system. Sort of like the alien deep inside the “Human” costume.

Integrating a legacy CMS with a full-featured E-Filing solution can provide this type of leverage. Here’s some of how it could work:

The E-Filing System can extract necessary data from the legacy CMS and store a copy in a much faster, much more accessible repository that is updated at regular intervals. Because the updating involves only changes, regular updating itself is fast.

When dealing with users – for viewing, for data entry, for communications – the E-Filing System provides the interface. Of course, incoming and outgoing documents comprise a large part of the changes anyway; so in fact what is happening is that the E-Filing System is updating the legacy CMS, saving redundant data entry while providing a much more elegant interface.

Likewise, users seeking to view court information, whether it be documents, CMS data such as the Case Register or Judgment Docket, things like attorney names and addresses, and so on, all can do so through the interface provided by the E-Filing System.

Much more extended uses, including E-Commerce (where users pay for court information), and secure E-Notification can also run off the E-Filing engine, all the while using back-end information from the CMS and in turn updating the CMS with the relevant transactional data and metadata.

Another major new “face” made possible by an integrated E-Filing System can be a customizable “Judicial View”. The E-Filing System can be configured to provide judges with views and access to exactly the information they need, whether on the bench, in chambers, or on the go. The E-Filing System will collect the variety of information from the disparate back-end systems in which the information resides, such as the court CMS, the Jail Log, the Court Docket, the Document Management System, and so on, and present it the way each judge chooses to have it presented.

Perhaps best of all, when the time comes to actually replace the legacy CMS, the impact on the end users can be considerably lessened. After all, what they will see probably won’t change much – because they will be used to dealing with the E-Filing System’s front end.

So, as everyone dresses up for Halloween, consider whether your old creature might not be a whole lot easier to deal with if it were “wearing” a full-featured E-Filing suit.

Happy Halloween.

Black Belt: Learning to Learn

113_black-beltThe term “Martial Arts” may seem strange to those who have never pursued them. To those who have, however, the term makes perfect sense. Karate, judo, tai-chi, kung-fu, and myriad others, are indeed arts, requiring years of dedicated study and practice to master.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit at the front end. Beginners can pick up the rudiments of self-defense in a relatively short order. Indeed, a lot of folks look no further, in the same way that tourists can pick up enough of a foreign language to get by on a vacation, although they cannot be said to “speak the language”. And, there are a lot of benefits that accrue at the outset: improved fitness, enhanced self-awareness, increased self-confidence, and so on.

Most of those reasons are why people take up a martial art in the first place. When they start, even achieving Green Belt status seems almost impossibly remote. Mastery requires internalizing a complex and non-intuitive set of reflexes that permeate every action and every thought. And there’s just no way to do that without investing a lot of time and effort. Thus, to novices (White Belts), the Green Belts appear to be outstanding, the Brown Belts appear to be perfect practitioners; and the Black Belts are practically gods.

So, here’s a bit of a surprise: A First Degree Black Belt, achieved after years of effort, does not mean that the person has learned all are there is to know. Yes, he or she has become highly proficient, both in the Martial Art and in life in most aspects of life in general. But achievement of First Degree Black Belt status means, within the Martial Arts community, that the recipient is finally qualified and ready to begin learning.

In that regard, the recent announcement that Macomb County, Michigan Circuit Court now processes more documents through its E-Filing System than are received in paper format caused me to reflect that Macomb County and others who have been diligently working on ECM for years are approaching new thresholds. Yes, the ECM systems long ago began providing significant savings, efficiencies, and improved customer service, much as a White Belt realizes great benefits from the first several years of training. But as the courts leave the old paradigm behind – shedding its old skin, as it were – after significant time, effort, and learning, they are positioned to begin leveraging ECM by fully shifting to information management paradigms unencumbered by the limitations of the old world. Things like automatic redaction, fully automated document lifecycle control, rich and detailed metrics of all kinds, real-time data aggregation, and much, much more will be just the beginning.

In fact, no one knows the nature and extent of the capabilities that will be emerging, because unlike martial arts, there are not generations of high-level Black Belts who have been here before. The currently emerging ECM-cognizant courts are the first generation.

The next several years will be interesting and fraught with possibility. Organization, including courts, have to “learn to learn”, just as people do. Many of those who embarked on the ECM journey years ago are, after years of effort and experience, becoming comfortable with Change Management at levels never before possible or even contemplated. For adults set in their ways (and courts, as we know, have been very set in their ways), learning a second language is usually pretty challenging. But learning a new language makes learning yet another language much, much easier. Likewise, fully internalizing a new technology paradigm such as ECM makes identification of and transition to even better operations significantly smoother and less traumatic.

Macomb County Circuit Court and its peers have come a long ways. More exciting, they are in much better position to move forward with each passing step. Tipping to a majority of e-filed documents is a big one. Moving up to the darker-colored belt. Congratulations; I look forward to watching as the journey continues.

 

eFiling: Audit Trail and Confidentiality

This is Part 10 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 9 here.

To conclude this eFiling series, let’s look back at a few pieces posted in the past that dealt with the enhancement of both the audit trail and the control over confidentiality offered by eFiling.

Audit Trail

One of the fun pieces I wrote, inspired by a presentation David Slayton, included an explanation of the audit trail provided by a good eFiling system.

[David] says … “… I know EXACTLY where the document came from, and whose profile was used to send it.” Knowing that a document has come from the right place, and knowing whose secure profile was used to send it, constitute security orders of magnitude greater than a written signature on a piece of paper…

Taking David’s point a step further, in an appropriately implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow system, not only do you know where the document came from, you know where it’s been and where it’s supposed to be going. It’s like Billy’s trail in the Family Circus: it leaves its tracks. It keeps track of who has looked at it and when. It keeps track of what was done to it, by whom, and when. And, unlike Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t disappear.

91_familycircus

…. [I]n a properly implemented ECM with workflow system, not only do we know that the document comes from who it’s supposed to; we know whether or not it’s been altered since it was sent, who has touched it, where it’s been, where it’s heading, whether it’s behavior makes sense, and if not, what would make better sense.

Stalking the Wily Electronic Documents, January 12, 2015

In another piece, I got to use one of my favorite pieces of doggerel (“Last night I saw upon the stair/ A little man who wasn’t there…”) to illustrate how a well-designed ECM system provides auditable Record Integrity:

A reliable document Chain of Custody in the paper world is merely a means of attempting to protect the Principal of Integrity. (Albeit an expensive, labor-intensive, highly unreliable, almost-never-completely followed means). Even with special viewing areas and monitors, do courts control ALL access by ALL staff, ALL attorneys, and ALL judges, not to mention cleaning and security staff? Not usually.

ECM provides a built-in mechanism for maintaining an audit trail of the Chain of Custody for court documents, providing end-to-end assurance of document integrity. ECM users view documents on screen and don’t come in contact with the physical file. From identity and signature authentication (when needed) at the front end, through tracking who accesses each document and when, to ”locking out changes” to prevent tampering, ECM absolutely protects document integrity…

Proving the Negative, October 3, 2011

Confidentiality

Confidentiality has several aspects. There’s things like judge’s notes, intended only for the judge or designated persons. Then there’s confidential information, like Social Security Numbers, minors’ names, abuse victims’ addresses, and so on, contained in otherwise public documents. There are totally confidential documents, like Secret Indictments. There are confidential case types, like some juvenile matters or adoptions, where the entire case is confidential.

eFiling and ECM provide greater control of confidential information, at all levels of granularity – from individual data element to entire case. Who can see what can be tightly controlled and administered. So, for example, attorneys on confidential juvenile cases can see their clients’ files, but no others. Court employees and judges with clearance can see confidential data that has been redacted using automated, workflow-enabled tools making it invisible to unauthorized persons.

However, as I noted in the March 14, 2012 posting,

This does not mean courts should not carefully review and, if required, modify rules and statutes to make certain there are no unpleasant surprises … The paper-on-demand court environment IS different than the hard-copy environment. The area of Public Records discoverability has wrinkles in the paper-on-demand environment that never arise in the paper world…

… Recommended best practice:

1) Ensure that disclosure rules call out both electronic and paper work product as their own non-disclosable category of information;

2) Maintain the non-disclosable work product documents in separate document types from formal court records, with security configuration that prevents viewing by unauthorized system users; and

3) Support electronic document annotations that don’t technically alter the original document and have their own security distinct from the document

Assuring Judicial Work Product Confidentiality in a Paper-On-Demand Court, March 12, 2012

While the business case for eFiling generally emphasizes the savings, convenience, work process streamlining, and quality improvements, the benefits of having a robust, easily managed audit trail and greatly enhanced control over confidentiality certainly should not be overlooked as additional “low-hanging fruit” when moving to eFiling and ECM.