Wine, Cloth, Carpentry and Court Automation

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

It’s pretty intuitive that when it costs less to acquire and run an automated system than to pay people to do the same work it makes financial sense to implement the technology. However, what is a lot less intuitive, but, paradoxically, a lot more true, is that it can make more financial sense to implement technology even if people could do the tasks for less.

140_competitve theoryWhile reading William Berstein’s A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (a fascinating and incredibly timely read), I had one of those “Aha” moments (either an epiphany or an unscheduled, age-related loss of brain cells, I’m never sure which). This one related to the international trade economic Theory of Comparative Advantage, first promulgated in the early 1800s, and how it might apply to the business case for implementation of automated systems in the courts.

In terms of international trade, the intuitively obvious conclusion is that if one nation (Country A) can produce something for less than another nation (Country B) can produce it, Country A should never buy that product from Country B. That’s what’s called The Principle of Absolute Advantage. Very obvious. Very simple. And, often, very wrong.

The key factor is Opportunity Cost. In the classic example, assume Country A can produce wine for half as much as Country B and cloth for one third as much as Country B. Further assume, in the perfect world of the theoretical economist, that any resources (labor, equipment, land) devoted to production of wine will reduce the amount of cloth that can be produced. In that case, Country A makes out a lot better buying wine from Country B in order to maximize production of the higher-margin cloth.

The part that got me thinking about the technology business case was a non-international (and for me much more understandable) illustration. Assume a highly specialized, very skilled and experienced attorney in high demand can bill $1,000 an hour. Assume also that the attorney is a very skilled carpenter; so much so that the attorney can do in half the time the same quality work as a master carpenter, who charges $100 an hour. As a strictly financial or business proposition (leaving aside personal satisfaction), should the attorney do or not do a DIY remodel job? Clearly, to the extent the time remodeling reduces legal practice billable hours, the attorney is losing (by not earning) money. That’s Opportunity Cost.

Now look at the business case for court technology. Suppose the acquisition and ongoing operational costs, for whatever reason, appear to be greater than or not significantly less than using staff to perform the same functions. While the Principle of Absolute Advantage (the obvious answer) would suggest that it would be more cost effective to forego the technology, such a conclusion may well overlook substantial Opportunity Costs. Simply put, what AREN’T those staff doing when they are manually dealing with those physical documents? What ISN’T the file storage area being used for while it houses all those files? What could those resources be better spent on? And so on.

While not the only question in the business case, how much is “being left on the table” should absolutely go into the calculation. If every staff person were capable of transporting, filing, or tracking documents and nothing else, perhaps the Opportunity Cost would be low. But that’s rarely the case. Those folks could be, and should be, and would be happier doing so much more.

 

See You in Salt Lake City

We’re looking forward to the Court Technology Conference in Salt Lake City September 12-14. Events such as this give us an opportunity to meet and greet customers and potential customers. We’re always happy to talk about JusticeTech and the ways its solutions can make courtrooms run more efficiently. Stop by our booth #410 for a quick chat.138_CTC

In addition, we’ll be presenting at two different sessions during the conference.

Join us on Wednesday morning for a discussion of The Component Model in Action. From its very beginning, ImageSoft chose the component model as the best approach for courts. Our increasing number of statewide partnerships tells us this is the right decision. We will share four reasons why courts are adopting the Component Model as their strategy. We’d like to hear your feedback on this trend.

Then on Thursday morning, we’ll discuss what happens when courts realize it is time for Going Beyond eFiling. Many courts have implemented an eFiling system but haven’t achieved a true digital workflow throughout the court. Paper handling and manual keying still drive too many court processes with attendant waste and expense. Join us for this strategy session to hear how prominent courts with a decentralized judiciary are attaining a digital workflow all the way to the courtroom without the expense of replacing their CMSs.

ImageSoft is an industry leader in transforming courts into digital environments. Our JusticeTech technology solution for courts enables eFiling, electronic case files, public access to documents, Pro Per/Pro Se eFilings and many other benefits.

See you in Utah.

Imagine – Part 3

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Part Three: MaaS and its Effects on Insurance and Personal Injury Cases; Technologies to Predict Outcomes

In Part One of this series, we talked about the growth of Mobility as a Service and how it is fundamentally and forever changing personal transportation.

In Part Two of this series, we looked at augmented driving and self-driving vehicles and their effect on the volume of traffic violations.

To start, consider that 94 percent of all traffic accidents result from driver error. Insurance companies are aware of this fact. So are the companies moving to develop self-driving cars. Over a year ago, Volvo declared it will assume 100 percent liability for any accidents or injuries caused by one of its vehicles while operating in fully autonomous mode; the other players (car manufacturers and makers of autonomous driving systems) are following suit.

As I noted in an article awhile back,

Of course, the manufacturers will tack the liability insurance cost onto the vehicle cost, right?

Well, maybe so; but that doesn’t mean what you might think. The average vehicle lifetime cost for liability insurance is in the neighborhood of $10,000. But, the car manufacturers don’t figure it that way. Instead, they look at what they expect the assumption of liability to cost them.

 In their risk analysis, the key piece of information is how much of the financial cost insured by that $10,000 per vehicle is based on driver error. The answer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is … 94 percent.

 The manufacturers are betting that their cars can do better than that – a lot better. Six percent of $10,000 is $600. Then take out the necessity for insurance companies to sell policies, collect premiums, process claims, and provide a return to shareholders from the original $10 grand

So, the real number looks like something less than $600. Indeed, based on this type of analysis, buyers of self-driving vehicles might well expect significantly lower cost of ownership than with driver-driven cars. Basically, there will be a lot less risk and a lot fewer intermediaries.

The manufacturers are going to be the insurers; and they are betting they won’t be making big PI payouts very often. If this bet is even partly right, it will fundamentally change the insurance industry. It’s also likely to change the courts’ case mix and volume.

Computer Based/Computer Augmented Prediction of Case Outcome Approaching 100% Accuracy

137_imagine3If you watch any TV, you have seen the ads for IBM’s Watson. That’s just one of the manifestations of how far along the expert systems curve we are. Currently in areas as different as medicine and chess, in the ranking of successful diagnosis/prediction/performance capability, humans come in third. Computer systems (such as Watson) come in second. Yes, better than humans. In first place, though, are humans working WITH tools such as Watson.

The results of Artificial Intelligence systems to predict outcomes in the legal realm have shown predictability success rates exceeding those of experienced attorneys and/or judges.  And these systems are in their infancy.

Consider the following case types, and the impact if parties (or potential parties) knew in advance that they had essentially no chance of success:

  • Small Claims
  • Traffic Violation
  • Misdemeanor
  • Felony
  • Family Law
    • Child Custody
    • Support
    • Property Division
  • Personal Injury

It’s not a big stretch to foresee low- or no-cost apps that, given the correct “framing” of the case and facts, will provide all but certain predictability in many, many cases.

The key, of course, will be in the discovery. In some cases, legally trained help may be a requisite for getting the best prediction. In others, with very straightforward facts, there may be minimal need to consult a legal expert.

Once again, though, as people are able to see whether filing or defending a case have any realistic chance of success, filings would decrease and actual trials would become even more rare. Not to zero, (hope springs eternal) plus, as we know, clients routinely ignore the advice of attorneys in this regard. But in many areas, particularly involving pro-se litigants, expect filing and trial numbers to decline.

The Challenge

Go back to the “Imagine” categories and try to visualize court management, assuming these changes came to pass.

What would change in my court if ____

  • Revenue from minor traffic and/or parking fines is cut 50-90 per cent?
  • Filings of cases involving traffic violations drop, again by 50-90 percent?
  • Filings of auto-based personal injury cases drop by 50-90 per cent?
  • And of those filing, less than 20 percent go to trial?
  • Parties were able to ascertain (sometimes with the assistance of lawyers, sometimes without) the estimated outcome of cases with a likelihood of 95 percent or more in three quarters of all cases, and to accordingly plead, settle, or not even file?

Then, consider that there is a very great likelihood that the LARGEST changes are not on the list. After all, twenty years ago no one had heard of the Internet, so it was not included in anyone’s predictions of the future. Just over ten years ago, no one outside of developers (and Star Trek fans) even imagined the iPhone. The term “social media” probably conjured up thoughts of People magazine. Five years ago, few people had heard of “shale oil,” and fewer still assumed that gasoline would sell for under $2.50 a gallon.

So, what’s the elephant in the room that we’re not seeing today? As The Moody Blues would say, if you know, please tell me. Whatever it is, it will make its presence felt pretty soon.

Meanwhile, imagine…

 

 

Imagine – Part 2

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Part Two: Augmented/Self-Driving Vehicles

In Part One of this series, we talked about the growth of Mobility as a Service and how it is fundamentally and forever changing personal transportation. 

136_imagine2If/when Augmented Driving becomes more than a niche phenomenon, it will quite predictably accelerate the shift toward Mobility as a Service. For proof, look no further than Uber’s multi-million dollar investment in self-driving vehicles. Allowing users to summon up, and send away, cars at need reduces a large percentage of the need for a personally owned vehicle.

With the emergence of MaaS, the incidence of traffic violations can be expected to substantially drop. Add to that augmented and/or self-driving vehicles, and the drop dramatically increases. Why? Because all but an insignificant number of traffic violations performed by vehicles operating based on algorithms will result either from one of two causes: First, faulty/illegal instructions from the traveler; not misconduct by the driver. Second, from the traveler overriding the algorithm and taking manual control.

So, for example, if the traveler instructs the vehicle to exceed the speed limit, and if the vehicle’s algorithm permits such an override, while there may be a violation, it would not be a driving violation. And, it’s an interesting question whether we as a society would allow such an algorithm. And even if allowed, would we as a society NOT require that such a command be observable by law enforcement systems in real time, just as a vehicle’s motion may be permissibly observed in real time by law enforcement – on the ground, in the air, or through imbedded technology (cameras, sensors) along the road, or (most effective) transmitted from the vehicle itself?

Personally, I think you can expect fully autonomous vehicles sooner rather than later, although implementation will not be uniform nor global. “Low-hanging fruit” includes

Add to this mix the pressure from insurance companies (and maybe, later, legislative bodies) to either require or provide even more incentives for even greater augmentation, just as they have done with seat belts, ABS brakes, and air bags. In the trucking industry, for example, insurers are requiring installation of technology to monitor driver driving hours and mental acuity in accordance with new federal regulations as a requisite to writing policies for long-haul trucks.

In fairly short order, I think you can expect, at a minimum, price breaks for some or all of the following:

  • Speed governors (regulating maximum speed), possibly with context awareness e.g., What is the speed limit here? How fast is the surrounding traffic moving? What are the weather and surface conditions?.
  • Biometric driver recognition (face, voice, handprint, other) possibly connected to whether or not the vehicle will operate at all.
  • Driver physical competency evaluation, such as determining whether the driver is under the influence, fatigued, etc., again connected to whether the vehicle will operate.
  • Permission for always-on “black box” capability that can locate and track the vehicle in real time and/or be used to determine where the vehicle has been and what it was doing at any given time in the past.

More difficult to imagine, not for the technology, but for the politics, would be acceptance of both real-time and historical law enforcement monitoring of all vehicular activity as a requirement to use the public roads. The debate will occur. There is currently, of course, no right to not be observed while operating a vehicle on public roads. And, all vehicles must display a unique identifier (the license plate) while on the public roads. In some jurisdictions, opaque windows that interfere with law enforcement’s ability to see what’s inside the vehicle, are illegal.

In other words, real-time monitoring and control of vehicle driving is already here, and will continue to reduce the amount of driver-committed traffic violations. Will the “right” to take one’s chance that he/she is not being observed be deemed to outweigh the safety aspects of universal monitoring? The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

In any event, it’s hard not to predict a decline in traffic violations. Thus, fewer traffic court cases and less traffic fine revenue.

And, for the same reason, fewer traffic accidents. Which equates to fewer Personal Injury cases. A LOT fewer PI cases.

Coming in Part Three: Effects on Insurance and Personal Injury Cases; Technologies to Predict Outcomes

Imagine – Part 1

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Part One: Mobility as a Service

135_imagine1Let’s imagine, if you will, a court in the future. Pick your own timeline for the advent of each of the futuristic “advances” proposed below. Every one of them is already under way. Granted, some of them are still in the early prototype stages, but most are fairly far along; some are already implemented in other government and private sector entities.

Ask yourself the question:

What would change in my court if ____

  • Revenue from minor traffic and/or parking fines is cut 50-90 percent?
  • Filings of cases involving traffic violations drop, again by 50-90 percent?
  • Filings of auto-based personal injury cases drop by 50-90 percent?
  • And of those filing, less than 20 percent go to trial?
  • Parties were able to ascertain (sometimes with the assistance of lawyers, sometimes without) the estimated outcome of cases with a likelihood of 95 percent or more in three quarters of all cases, and to accordingly plead, settle, or not even file?

How do these things happen? Consider some of the following developments.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Remember when the cost of getting entertainment from a TV consisted of buying the TV and antenna? True, it was expensive, but you only paid once. Now consider how much you pay every month for TV. That’s Entertainment as a Service. You pay for personal communication through your cell phone bill; that’s Mobile Connectivity as a Service.

What Uber, Lyft, and similar enterprises offer is Mobility as a Service. The big driver (no pun intended) here is that, next to the home, the vehicle is generally a person or family’s biggest expense. There’s the cost of the vehicle, the cost of the fuel, the cost of the insurance, and the cost of storage (garage at home; paid parking at work or elsewhere) just to name a few expenses that go with vehicle ownership. Worst of all, the asset – the vehicle – that’s costing all that money sits idle between 70 percent and 95 percent of the time, during which, of course, it has to be stored.

Thus, the financial incentive for individuals living in urban areas to divest themselves of cars – or use them a lot less – when possible is great. In urban and many suburban areas, this divestiture is already becoming and will continue to become even more attractive.

The limitation on most forms of public transportation (buses, rail lines, etc.) until now have been:

  • The need for the rider to go to where the transportation loads and unloads; and
  • The need for the rider to conform to the transportation system schedule.

MaaS changes that dynamic. The question becomes service level – what will the user pay to receive a given level of service/flexibility.

Just as Napster changed fundamentally and forever the business model for acquiring music, Uber, Lyft, and the other early players in MaaS are fundamentally and forever changing the model for personal transportation. Even if Uber and/or Lyft fail to survive – as Napster failed to survive – the change will be irreversible.

Coming in Part Two: Augmented/Self-Driving Vehicles – How this technology introduces new legal questions. 

 

Childhood’s End

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Notice anything different about this post?

The difference is probably hard to spot. The difference is ––I’m dictating directly into my word processor. 131_voiceactivation

Now, that may not seem very different to you; but I guarantee you, it’s really different for me. Sure, I used to dictate all the time when I was practicing law. I even dictated quite a bit when we were developing and deploying court computer systems. I’ve dictated documentation, help text, process and procedure descriptions and instructions, and, of course, correspondence.

And, of course, Siri and I are chat pals.

However, the experience of dictating and see the words appear on screen in my document is (for me, at least) totally unlike dictating to either a live stenographer or a dictation unit.

I regard this activity as preparation for direct Brain Machine Interface.

Oh, you don’t believe that BMI is coming anytime soon? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably the comfortable majority.

Among those not in the comfortable majority are Mark Zuckerberg, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and Google, to name a few. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is already doing it. Granted, it is currently very expensive and requires invasive surgery. But Facebook, DARPA, and Google are betting that changes in a big way in the next five or so years.

You don’t have to believe BMI it is possible; but you should be thinking about the implications if it is. Because, whether ubiquitous BMI is just around the corner or not, capabilities that are mighty close are already here.

Like dictation directly into a standard word processor, email, and, most directly, text messaging.

How do you think voice activation will enter court technology?

Building from the Ground Up

By Jeffrey N. Barlow

I am currently reading the biography of Steve Jobs. Without drawing too close an analogy, Jobs’s intense focus on the “user experience,” and how to make it “insanely great” should resonate with the Justice community as it seeks tools to automate the planning, delivery, and archiving of services. The story of the iPod provides an excellent illustration of the point.128_ipod evolution

Generally, the thinking, both inside and outside the company, was that Apple was a technology company that, among other things, marketed technical devices. And, of course, it was. Pre-iPod, many technology companies made devices for people to use to listen to music.

Other companies produced music, which was distributed on various media. There probably never was a plot to change the media just as my record/tape/CD collection started filling out; but it sure seemed like it.

Some companies, like Sony, actually produced both the content and the devices. But, while it may have seemed like that created an “integrated experience,” that turned out not to be the case at all. (And therein lies its own cautionary tale: the fact that the system components have the same label does not necessarily guarantee particularly elegant integration at the functional level.) At Sony, there was the technical (hardware) side, and the recording (artists) side. As it turned out, the twain was rarely meeting.

Steve Jobs loved to listen to music. Being who he was, he figured out what that meant. And it meant a lot more than putting a record on a turntable, or a cassette in a tape deck, or a CD in a player.

As I read about this adventure, having lived through the previous eras of music consumption, I find myself struck by the fact that I have seen this story unfold in another realm; indeed the realm with which this blog deals: Justice System Information and Records Management. In this regard, the modern, integrated  judicial automated tool sets provide an excellent illustration.


 Read more about an integrated judicial tool for the bench.

In no way should these observations be construed as a criticism of those (of whom I am one) who developed court and justice community information management systems. The fact is, the seminal court information systems were developed by technologists for strictly back-room use by data entry clerks using the tools available at the time. Elegance was, to say the least, not a consideration. Nor was much in the way of integration, except for the passing of large, cumulative reports.

As you will be hearing in this space from Brad Smith, Senior Justice Systems Consultant for ImageSoft, the new systems are largely driven from the top down by judges; not from the bottom up by technologists. As a result, today judges (as well as all the staff and business partners) have available to them tools that can seamlessly and elegantly bring together the many information streams and process enabling technologies required to provide an outstanding “user experience.”

Not surprisingly, the key change moment was when judges themselves took control of the design process. (I recommend taking a look at Judge Lee E. Haworth’s video on the development of the Manatee County, Florida judicial bench application.) As with the Apple experience, when people whose business is providing justice services are at the forefront of the design of systems to provide justice services, those systems turn out to be a lot more than just technology. They actually turn out to be cool.

For better or for worse, the justice system constitutes a relatively small market compared to, say, defense or accounting or agriculture. Partially for that reason, a lot of justice system IT had its origins in other, completely different business domains. As the Apple experience shows, those who take the time to work from the ground up with the people and institutions intimately involved in the target enterprise, in this case, justice, are capable of providing tighter, more elegant, and more powerful systems in the end.

Which court system do you think could benefit from a ground-up redesign?

The Content Below – Connecting with the Buried Business Information

By Jeffrey N. Barlow

126_content below“The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above…”

A Horse With No Name
America, 1971

The classic line from America’s forty-five year old classic would be just as true (though nowhere near as hauntingly beautiful and descriptive) if you substituted “file system” or “document repository” for “desert” in the above lyric lines. A pre-ECM/DMS (paper) document management system bore about as much relation to the information within the documents as a table of contents or index bears to the contents of a book. They were “pointers”; like a marine chart telling you where the deep water is. There was little to no information about the water itself, much less what’s in it, and what the things in it are doing. To get to the fish, or the information, you’re on your own.

The thing is, there’s a lot more room below the surface; so you can fit a lot more stuff. Plus, it’s three-dimensional (richer). Historically, though, getting to it has been a real challenge.

Today, the very nature of information is changing. We used to talk about “structured data” and “blobs”.  Structured data could be used, manipulated, measured, monitored, and so on. Information in the “blob” – that is, things like freeform text, audio, or video – had to be read, heard, or viewed to get any information from within.

Modern analytics engines feast on unstructured information.  For example, companies, law enforcement, governments, and who knows who else, monitor the twittersphere to keep track of what is currently of interest to people, what people are doing or planning to do, what people think about products or shows or political candidates or the weather, and on and on. Courts and those interested in courts are starting to realize that plugging more deeply into their “underwater” information can provide both real-time intelligence (for example, to assist judges on the bench) as well as a plethora of management information.

Across the business and government landscape, enterprises have been (proactively or under duress) reexamining the role that information management plays in their pursuit of their core missions. In many cases, and certainly in the case of the Justice System, the answer is that information management is what they do.

All of which calls into question the historic separation of the constituent “systems”: “Case Management Systems “, “Content Management Systems”, “Business Practices”, “Workflow”, “Jury Systems”, “Inmate Tracking Systems”, “Court Reporting”, “Accounting”, etc. While at the physical level there may be many systems, some of which are “electronically” integrated and some which are integrated through paper or people (affectionately known as “fleshware”), in the primary business sense, they are all components of one Information Management System.

Today, the “desert” (surface) is one or more interfaces with the “ocean” below. The conceptual distinction between a Case Management System and the other systems has meaning only when the technical separation imposes constraints. As a result, look for more and more transparent integration, at the user interface level, of the component systems; because the distinctions are just getting in the way.

For all these reasons, modern Case Management Systems can’t just sit on top of the desert. They have to have rich, fast, and flexible access to the ocean of vibrant informational life below the surface. For while the operations and activities of the courts have long sat firmly on top of that informational foundation, the courts’ relationship with it has fundamentally changed.

 

Welcome to The Paperless Court Blog

124_Changes“(Turn and face the strange)
Ch…Ch…Changes”

David Bowie, “Changes”

Just as Bob Dylan observed that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you don’t need me to know that the look of this blog has changed. I can, however, share with you the nature and purposes of the changes, and what you can expect going forward.

The blog now takes on the look and feel of its new “parent”, the new  JusticeTech website.

The new masthead, “The Paperless Court Blog”, focuses on the internal and external challenges of courts to go paperless and its business practices. While it will touch on the solution of the JusticeTech solution suite on occasion, the ideas and concepts behind the blog are designed to be helpful for any court.

The previous blog title is not so much replaced as subsumed. “Order in the Court” (to which yours truly contributes and will continue to contribute on a regular basis) becomes one of several sections within the blog.

For my money, the biggest and best news is that more folks are going to be contributing material. Some examples of future topics include:

  • Mandatory vs Permissive eFiling
  • Why eFiling is Not Enough
  • Making Court Processes Easier for Self-Representative Litigants
  • Assumptions and Policies that Delay Going Paperless
  • Why Most Cloud Solutions Aren’t Really the Cloud
  • Why Open Standards Are Key for Courts

In addition to these (and my on-going “Order in the Court” postings), expect ad-hoc postings from:

  • ImageSoft CEO, Dave Hawkins
  • President, Scott Bade
  • Chief Technology Officer, James Leneschmidt
  • JusticeTech Product Owner, Jenny Bunch
  • Sr. Justice Consultant, Brad Smith
  • And others with valuable perspectives on the technology and business practices that are involved in moving to and effectively managing a paperless court.

In short, the changes to the blog include a fresh, new format, more material (hopefully at least one posting a week), and input from industry experts with broad and deep experience in court management, court technology, industry standards, and customer and business partner relationship development and management. We are committed to provide you, our readers, information that is useful, accessible, timely, and (not least), entertaining.

Thank you for reading our blog.