Keep Calm: The Court Clerk Uses CaseShare to Handle It

186_keepcalmclerk“Keep calm” is probably the least comforting phrase to any court clerk trying to ascend a case to the higher, or Appellate, courts. And rightfully so – there are custom requirements to be met, volumes to be assembled, files to be named and pages to be ordered, signed, sealed and delivered. Even after that laborious process, the file will likely still bounce back for unmet requirements, missing or improperly ordered papers, etc. Studies reveal that the court case rejection rates rise as high as 46 percent!

More stress than even a Snickers can fix, we knew we better come up with a solution.

Now There’s an App for That

A purpose-built application, CaseShare is a stand-alone solution that satisfies all state requirements, automates the fancy footwork of appellate court cases, and digitally delivers it in a user-friendly PDF format to the appropriate higher court. But if you really want it to integrate with the lower court’s document management system (DMS), it will.

Remember that 46 percent? Since adopting CaseShare, one county’s Circuit Court reported that less than five percent of its appeal cases have been rejected.

A Ruling in Favor of All

Cat’s out of the bag: lower court clerks benefit from CaseShare in numerous ways. With a previously paper-based process gone automated, rules-based processing keeps them on track while the man hours required to assemble the case and transcripts drops from days to hours. Lower court clerks now have the capacity to handle their appellate case workload, and then some.

But don’t hang your heads just yet, Appellate clerks – you actually win twice! Not only are you spending less time reviewing and sending back the record, but you’ll receive all your files in a consistent manner that also allows you to easily route them into the appropriate hands.

CaseShare didn’t forget about you either, Appellate Justices. A text searchable PDF with bookmarks makes it easier in court proceedings to quickly get everyone on the same page.

Let’s Build a Case for It

There’s more to CaseShare than can fit into one blog – without losing the average reader’s attention, at least. So we built an entire webpage that spells out all the functionalities – including a populated table of contents, text-searchable documents, one-click rotating, re-ordering, deleting and/or adding pages, and more – in chunked, digestible sections. You’ll also be able to listen to a CaseShare-specific webinar which includes a demo by ImagesSoft President Scott Bade and a customer story.

Take Me to the CaseShare Webpage

We Want to Hear From You!

On average, how does your court handle higher court case ascension? Which re-occurring issues do clerks gripe about most?

Make your case in the “comments” section below or on our Courts LinkedIn Showcase page. We read and respond – promise!

 

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

 

State Statutes Got You Stressed? Go Paperless

By: Steve Glisky, Practice Manager, ImageSoft

165_compliance
The criminal justice system holds prosecutors and law enforcement officers to unique statutory responsibilities which, when not honored, can lead to misconduct and disciplinary action. The effort required to ensure these protocols are respected at times take a backseat to the daily grind of pushing stacks of paper files through the justice system.

Jurisdictions that move from paper to electronic-based prosecution increase the speed and consistency of prosecuting cases.  A solution that expands throughput while systemizing compliance rules helps improve justice and community confidence.  As a blueprint feature of the Paperless Prosecutor Solution (PPS), statute compliancy has been built into the daily operations of prosecutors’ offices across the country.

You Ask, We Answer

As we walk through each of these compliancy features, think about your own processes and how you honor each of these responsibilities. Are you taking unnecessary time-consuming steps? Is your protocol safeguarding your cases as much as it should?

CJIS Security Policy

Passing a CJIS Security Audit goes beyond just getting your staff and partners finger printed and trained.  A key tenant to CJIS security requirements is that any data exchanged between law enforcement and prosecution must be encrypted end-to-end and while at rest.  Simply receiving sensitive information from law enforcement via a standard email is a sure way to fail an audit and incur penalties. The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is the Rx for CJIS audit anxiety because it uses an innovative and secure Law Enforcement Agency Portal (LEAP) for streamlining communication with the prosecutor’s office.  Paperless prosecution is a great way to audit proof your office while enjoying a peace of mind that critical information is safe and secure.

Discovery

It’s a violation of due process if the prosecution fails to disclose evidence throughout the life of a case.  In the paper world, it’s often difficult to track and prove when discoverable materials are sent.  Any missteps could result in a mistrial or a decision being overturned.

Paperless prosecution protects the office against these types of challenges by automating the discovery process, enabling the systematic redaction of documents at the time of intake, and providing a complete audit trail of when and to whom discoverable materials are sent. Updated discovery statuses and materials are always available anytime in the courtroom or office.

Victim Rights

The prosecutor must notify victims about many things, including their rights to participate in the case, receive plea agreement recommendations, and attend the sentencing hearing to express how the crime has affected their lives. As all prosecutors know, failure to honor these responsibilities undermines justice by not giving the victim a voice in the outcome of the case.

PPS ensures that justice is served by automatically alerting the Victim Rights Coordinator to send out notifications to the victim based upon pre-defined rules of the office.  This keeps the victim engaged throughout the case and helps uphold the public’s trust in their prosecutor and the entire justice system.

Subpoenas

Prosecutors must properly subpoena witnesses prior to court hearings.  If the witness fails to appear, it’s incumbent on the prosecutor to know the serve status of the subpoena.  If the witness was properly served but failed to appear, a bench warrant could be issued depending on the circumstance.  In a paper-based environment, it’s very difficult to locate accurate serve-status information at the time of the hearing.

This isn’t a problem, however, with PPS, which delivers real-time serve status updates from the LEAP portal to the Prosecutor’s electronic case file. Going a step further, this data-driven approach also equips the prosecutor with the number of attempts it took to serve the witness.

In-Custody Arrests

In-custody arrests are time sensitive for the Prosecutor.  Typically, prosecutors have only 48 hours to make a charging decision.  If the Prosecutor fails to issue charges within this timeframe, law enforcement must let potentially dangerous offenders go free.  Unfortunately, mistakes and delays do occur, and inadvertent releases happen more than they should.

PPS protects the public against this threat by color coding in-custody prosecution requests red with high priority.  If prosecution requests are not screened within three hours, an automatic alert is sent out to the assigned attorney and office administrator.  Additional escalation alerts are sent to the Chief Assistant Prosecutor and the Prosecutor if the request still hasn’t been screened within a pre-designated timeframe. The combination of real-time data exchange with law enforcement and built-in priority escalation and alerts gives the prosecutor the upper hand in keeping dangerous felons off the street.

Conflict-of-Interest Cases

When a conflict of interest exists, prosecutors are obligated to lock out certain users from viewing a case file. This occurs when an office employee is closely related to a party or has some special relationship to the case that may call into question the person’s objectivity and how the case would be handled.  PPS safeguards sensitive details from these individuals to ensure the consistency and integrity of the office.

Policy Administration

For large offices or state-wide deployments, PPS manages policy and procedure administration from end-to-end through Document Knowledge Transfer and Compliance (DKTC). DKTC ensures all employees have access to the most up-to-date versions of required materials and that deadlines for review and acknowledgement are enforced. Compliance testing is available to gauge employees’ comprehension of distributed content via scoring reports and test certificates.

What We’re Really Trying to Say

PPS is a valuable tool for keeping the Prosecutor’s office and Law Enforcement Agencies compliant with state rules. Creating a digital environment with PPS also improves prosecution efficiency, consistency, and transparency. Jurisdictions across the nation are investing in this innovation and, as a result, better serving and protecting their communities.

PPS Cloud, a new tool for reducing upfront costs and deploy times, will also soon be available. Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about staying statute compliant with the Paperless Prosecution Solution.

 

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?

Through an Officer’s Eyes: How Going Paperless is Strengthening Law Enforcement

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft 

As the first eyes on a crime scene, law enforcement sees a case from the first-responder’s call all the way to a conviction. While officers understandably want to stay updated on the lifecycle of their cases, their intimacy and communication with the entire process is also critical to putting criminals behind bars and ensuring a successful prosecution.

Typically, prosecutors and law enforcement have no problem joining forces, but many do run into a problem communicating it. As explained by Bronx Law Guide, the prosecution process takes about one year from the time a suspect is arrested until they go to trial. That may not seem like a long while, but when rape or homicide is the situation at hand, time is everything.

Where is time being lost?

158_policetechIn-between the lines… literally. After evaluating an incident, an officer now must prepare a report. Sometimes they are handwritten, or sometimes they are typed and printed, but reports have historically always been on paper. Either way, the document then needs to be physically transported to the prosecuting attorney’s (PA) office. Once the PA makes his or her decision, the paper report has to make its way back to the officers, who then have to disseminate that information to everyone on the case. Because there is often significant mileage between the main office, sub-stations, and officers on the field, this creates a notable time delay and poses a threat to the overall integrity of the case.

The Solution?

An entirely paperless process. One of the most sought-after features of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is TrueFiling’s LEAP (law enforcement agency portal). Through its secure channel, LEAP rapidly transmits critical information between law enforcement and the prosecutor. From securing warrants and subpoena management to evidence submittal and updating a case’s status, LEAP electronically communicates all pertinent information within minutes, even from a PA’s office in one corner of a county to an officer on the field.

Producing Possibility Post-Paper

Being alleviated from paper-heavy files and not relying on good traffic conditions to make progress on a case are only two of the many benefits of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution. Electronic communication opens the door to several other means for a seamless, real-time trade of information between officers, prosecutors, and sheriffs.

  1. Instant Gratification from Instant Communication 

    As mentioned earlier, The Paperless Prosecutor Solution was designed to address the lag in communication between law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts. But not only will Law Enforcement be able to facilitate faster processes, they will also receive automatic notifications on any informational updates, including the prosecutor’s notes, real-time case status updates, dispositions, evidence management, and more. Charging documents will also be sent, received, and accessed electronically. Eliminating the need for a runner, these digitized changes also liberate officers from their desks while still allowing them to check a case or communicate documents.

  2. You’ll be Smitten with Submittin’ 

    Digitizing communication lessens the risk of human error by standardizing the submittal process. The electronic forms require all necessary data is collected, and ensures every submission adheres to the same procedure. Its highly-configurable integrative powers make The Paperless Prosecutor Solution an option for any current RMS and, as a result, any office. And if you’re not at the office? No problem! So long as you have secure internet connection, you can access exactly what you need, whenever you need it.

  3. The Audit You’ll Actually Want 

    No, the IRS isn’t coming for you. With a full audit trail for all documents, file owners are able to see who accessed or edited a document and when, which ensures accountability for sensitive documents like subpoenas. Police departments will no longer have to manually maintain a log sheet of their communications, as documents will automatically log two-way communications.

  4. Automating Your Autograph 

    Even more in demand than Brad Pitt’s signature, law enforcement needs to securely and efficiently lend their autograph daily. With TrueSign, officers and sheriffs can electronically and remotely sign charging documents, search warrants, and more.

What Are You Waiting For? LEAP to it!

With the ability to quickly push cases along and put criminals behind bars sooner rather than later, The Paperless Prosecutor Solution is a revolutionary tool for law enforcement and, most importantly, the entire criminal justice system.

 

What part of The Paperless Prosecutor Solution will be of greatest benefit to your team?

County Clerks and Public Records Requests: A Happier Ever-After

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

Can we all take a moment to celebrate the county clerks who, at this very moment, are working to keep our local governments running? Just a month ago, Winter Haven, FL blocked out an entire week to applaud municipal clerks. From May 6-12, county clerks were showered with gratitude for the value that their work brings to the Winter Haven community every day. And rightfully so!

Like the thread that holds a king-sized quilt together, one of the most important roles of a county clerk is to ensure that elected officials stay in open and clear communication with the public they serve, typically by means of public records request. In this way, clerks serve as the gatekeepers of a county’s checks and balances.

As the efficiency and success of counties hinges on the quality and capacity of its clerks, it is critically important that they stay well-equipped with the most updated tools for processing information requests and maintaining open communication with the public.

To FOIA This, You Need to Forget That!

155_paperworkmountain.jpgTraditionally, a clerk’s office space is shadowed by mountains of paper files and records that they typically sift through for days just to process one records request. Even then, they may have to redact sensitive information, which includes making a copy of the original document, inking out sensitive information, and making another copy to send to the requester. If the documents need to be snail-mailed, that will take even longer to be received and will acquire postage expenses. Not to mention that FOIA requests are bound by time restraints, and clerks need to not only manage and prioritize the timestamps on their requests, but adhere to them.

In a world where information is being requested at record speeds, clerks could never acquire the capacity or space necessary to maintain offices that are both efficient and manually-operated. On the flipside, many counties don’t have the budget to keep hiring more people, buying or renting more space, replenishing paper and ink, or footing more postal fees.

In a nutshell, paper is out. So, what’s moving in?

ECM, You’re Up!

Enterprise content management systems (ECM) are taking counties and clerks by storm, swooping up every document and file and condensing it all into one, comprehensive digital world. Also called electronic document management systems (EDMS), these electronic document and file repositories leverage automation and digital functionality to turnaround FOIA requests and their many other callings in optimal time.

Why are ECMs trending as the preferred tool for managing FOIA requests? We can think of a few reasons:

  • Tracking in No Time: As we previously mentioned, clerks work within several time boundaries on any given day. Able to integrate with electronic workflows, ECM/EDMS will recognize electronic requests, track their progress, and electronically deliver the results.
  • Point-and-Click Redactions: With an ECM like OnBase, redacting sensitive information is as easy as point and click. Best yet, this feature also allows you to create a separate, redacted copy for the recipient while the original copy is maintained on file.
  • Audits, Access, and Answers: Have you and another clerk, official, or staff member ever simultaneously needed the same document? Fighting over paper is not only time consuming, but it diminishes the integrity of the document – it could be on anyone’s desk at any time, and very vulnerable to wandering eyes. With an ECM/EDMS, a file or document can be viewed by multiple parties at the same time. And since you’re accessing documents electronically, you are free to work remotely from anyplace with secure internet access. Complete audits of a document’s history also hold users accountable, so you can see who has viewed or edited a document, how, and when.
  • eNotifications = No worries: Electronic notifications keep clerks on track with looming deadlines and what they should be prioritizing. Especially valuable to time-sensitive FOIA requests, the notifications reduce stress for the clerk by ensuring that everyone has what they need exactly when they need it.

As The Paperless Process People, we’re all about efficiency. If you’re ready to un-shadow your office in time for summer and learn more about the easy adoption of an ECM/EDMS, feel free to ping us.

What part of handling record requests is the most problematic for you? What’s the one thing you with your current document management system could do to help?

 

Countdown to e-Courts 2016

I’m looking forward to e-Courts 2016 in a couple of weeks; and not just because it’s in Las Vegas and likely to be sunnier and warmer than the December cold and gray at home. e-Courts and CTC conferences stand well on their own in that they are rich in information, networking and exposure to the latest technological innovations. The e-Courts experience, being court-centric, “lessons learned” as well as future planning makes it all that more relevant.

Beyond all that, for those of us fortunate enough to have attended a number of these conferences over the years, the cumulative “arc”, if you will, of the conferences provides an interesting view of where court technology has been and where it is headed. Each conference has its own special vibe or theme (sometimes more than one); and while there are definite similarities from conference to conference, the differences reflect the advances in the technology and their effects on courts.

118_e-courtsA glance at this year’s agenda provides immediate insight into this year’s theme. All past conferences, of course, have dealt with changing technology. This year, from Gary Marchant’s Keynote Address  through sessions with titles like Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change and Courts Disrupted, the pattern seems to be identifying and describing not only the technologies, but also discussing how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor. Because, while each new technology in of itself engenders change, the cumulative effect of the myriad of technological, societal, environmental, medical, pedagogical and other tsunami-like changes are altering the very face of the justice system.

One area I hope gets some discussion at and following the conference (while not necessarily under this label) is Complexity Theory. (Several years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog on Complexity Theory, also known as Chaos Theory. The editors mercifully elected not to publish it.) The particular point I made in that piece that should be considered is determining whether, in a very dynamic (that is, rapidly changing) environment, organizations can maneuver more effectively with one large, tightly integrated system, or with multiple smaller, integrated but interchangeable systems. In a broad sense, the answer, of course, is “It Depends.”

I hope there is some discussion of what it depends upon. For one thing, it depends on where the court is coming from. If the court has a tightly integrated system that handles CMS, DMS, work flow, judge’s work bench, public access, web portal, and so on, no doubt there will be real advantages with staying with that model. If, on the other hand, each (or at least many) different functions are handled by separate systems, the answer may be very different. In cases where there is NO current system for certain functions, like Content Management, Workflow, Judges’ Workbench, it’s a serious question whether to try to expand an existing system like a CMS or go with a Best of Breed system that can be elegantly integrated with the existing systems.

The Complexity, or Chaos Theory reference pertains to a characteristic with which we are all familiar but rarely articulate, and for which there is some truly incomprehensible math. Since I am not real sharp with math, here’s an example: If you want to pave an area, are you better off paving it as one section, or as a bunch of smaller sections fitted together (like squares in a sidewalk)? Or, should you have one large single-pane window, or a set of smaller window panes that together form a large viewing area?

While the single area may be easier overall to put in, there are a couple drawbacks. One is that you must be able to do it all at once. Another is that one crack, anywhere, destroys the integrity of the whole thing. Thus, when there is the prospect of variability (like heat changes winter to summer) or instability (like ground tremors) that can damage the window, builders go with the smaller, sectioned design.

I think there’s a real analogy here to the situation courts find themselves in as the gale winds of change blow over them. The Pyramids could withstand a lot of weather. But even they were made of individual building blocks. Yes, we’re all finding new functions we want to migrate onto electronic platforms. everyone should carefully consider not just what works best; but what model will best withstand the certainty of future uncertainty.

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.

Paperless Office Progress Actually Observed

As a kid at the beach, I became aware, at some point, that although the rising tide can and will come in and soak previously dry ground, it’s usually pretty hard to tell exactly when the tide changes and starts receding. In fact, it seemed to me that the tide level just sort of stayed at the same place for quite a while, before there was any discernable retreat.

115_paperless-officeA recent article by Christopher Mims with the catchy title  Why the Paperless Office Is Finally On Its Way caught my eye. Turns out that, no; it hasn’t been just your imagination: The advent of nearly universal “Paperless Offices” (or, as we like to call it, “Paper On Demand”) has been, shall we say, a bit slower in coming than had been predicted forty years ago, when an article in Business Week predicted that “…paper would be on its way out by 1980, and nearly dead by 1990.” In fact, Mims cites reports that indicate the number of pages printed in offices was increasing until 2007.  Now, we have analysis that 2007 was the high water mark.

Now, what’s interesting to me is not that the Paperless Office didn’t arrive on schedule – we all know that. What’s interesting is that it now looks like the tide has actually turned.

According to Mims’ sources, since 2007, office use of paper has declined a steady rate of 1% to 2% a year.  The article goes on point out a number of reasons for the hitherto slow progress away from paper.  Still, it concludes by predicting that the trend away from paper is gaining momentum; although full transition will clearly take some time.

Here are a few of my observations on these findings.

First and foremost, keep in mind that the “1% to 2%” figure is an aggregate. It could mean that every office has reduced its printing that much. Or, it could mean that 1% or 2% of all offices have reduced their printing to zero; and all the rest still print just as much as they always have.

The reality is somewhere in the middle. I think what you’ve got is a relative handful of offices reducing their printing by far more; and most offices, even when they are utilizing electronic documents, still printing as much as or more than they always did.

One excellent illustration of how this situation occurs involves our old “friend”, the process of printing out a paper for a judge to physically sign. Attorneys filing physical documents (which they had to print), which the court then scans into an electronic document management system, again keeps the “print count” elevated. The answer here, of course, is implementation of E-Signature.

Another all too common example is printing out e-filed documents, then scanning them into an existing, non-integrated DMS. Courts have discovered that, among its many other benefits, implementation of a strategic enterprise content management system will eliminate this huge demand for printing to paper.

When we see progress, such as the announcement that, having launched an e-filing pilot initiative in 2011, the Macomb County, Michigan Courts in July, 2016 report processing more pleading filings via their e-filing system than through the U.S. Postal Service, we are seeing how the tide really is starting to turn.

The statistics and trends noted in Mims’ article indicate that the balance has shifted. Furthermore, for lots of reasons (and we have discussed them here – generational, technological, financial), paper usage is not only dropping, but the rate is accelerating. Those who over the past several years have committed to and invested in moving toward “Paper on Demand” are and will continue to realize greater and greater benefits. Those who have yet to embark on the journey will soon find the pressures to do so building to an irresistible level as the receding tide leaves them alone on the beach.

Thinking Digitally

It takes all types to make a world, so perhaps there are people who actually appreciate and/or read the popups that read something like

“By checking this box I acknowledge I have read and agree to the User Agreement…” [consisting of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of virtual pages of indecipherable gobbeldy-gook].

114_thinking-digitallyOf course, in order to consummate the transaction, you have no choice – you HAVE to check the box. Nevertheless, courts routinely hold that users who check the box have thereby bound themselves to the substance of the said gobbeldy-gook.

I bring up this example to pose a question: Is that which binds the user a document; or is it a data point, meta or otherwise?

I don’t raise this question to be churlish or legalistic; but rather to point out an increasing and accelerating trend towards the evolution, if you will, of what were formerly regarded as “documents” into pure “data”. The transition seems to be a continuum. First, paper documents were converted to electronic form and stored, with added meta-data. Rapidly, the meta-data itself became first useful, then essential, and (in some cases) of greater significance and greater accessibility than the content of the document.

The move to “born electronic” documents moves everything further along the continuum. The distinction between “content” and “meta-data” has gotten real blurry, in case you haven’t noticed.

In fact, more and more, “forms” are replacing “documents”. The form’s actual IDENTITY – what it IS-  (A Motion for a Continuance? A Change of Attorney?) has become meta-data. There is no verbiage; only identification of the transaction type and the relationships.

Among the many implications of this evolution – which is either approaching or has hit the elbow of the asymptotic curve – is that “Records Management” in the historical sense no longer has much relevance. Concepts related to paper and physical files provide little guidance and much confusion when applied to data. Just one example: In the world of paper and physical files, no one asks how many places or in how many documents the name of the defendant’s attorney is stored. In the digital world, the name of the defendant’s attorney may not actually appear in any record or data on any of her cases. Instead, there will be pointers to a central file with all the attorneys’ names. What happens to the old case records when the attorney gets married?

I bring this up not because I believe problems to be pervasive or difficult to surmount; but because it sure seems to me that the entire subject requires a way of thinking completely different from the old ways. Someone probably has a better term, for now, I’ll call it “Thinking Digitally”.

Courts that are thinking digitally will be wanting to “data-tize” what used to be files and documents as quickly and deeply as possible. Essential tools include robust ECM including E-Filing and Workflow, integrated at the data level with Case Management Systems, with data-level intersystem communications among business partners. Without these tools, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can manage “records” at the data level. Because, let’s face it, at the atomic level, the data is a bunch of ones and zeros. Without knowing where it came from, how it was created, how it was processed, when it was “approved” (“By checking this box’ I agree…”), and so on, you CAN’T know what to do with it or how to manage it. Think of the marrying attorney. Multiply that situation by a zillion.

You can bet that Microsoft keeps track of when you checked the box; and you can also bet that they don’t keep a copy of their “Agreement” for everyone who checks the box. Developing the rules, processes, and procedures for today and tomorrow’s records requires thinking digitally about ALL information, whether it is or previously has been contained in a document.