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.

Electronic Court Filing Standards: What, Why, and Where are They Headed?

This is Part 2 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 1 here.

99_eFilingstandards“This tale grew in the telling…”
J.R.R. Tolkien, in his Forward to the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Tolkien’s statement is nowhere more apt than in discussing electronic court filing (ECF) standards. From a small, informal group of visionaries trying to agree on the definition and format of a handful of court terms in the late 1990’s, ECF standards, now under the auspices of standards organization OASIS, through the OASIS LegalXML Electronic Court Filing TC (Technical Committee), have grown into a full-blown specification that includes data definitions, schema, document specifications, messaging, business rules, and more.

In addition, the ECF standards, after first spawning more “global” justice, government, and universal standards, now elegantly fit within and thus are able to leverage the far more wide-ranging National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) and Global Reference Architecture (GRA) standards. Thus ECF standards not only provide a solid basis for eFiling, they provide the mechanism for broader, smoother, more extensive integration and interaction with the world within which the courts function.

Today, most procurements for eFiling, whether from a vendor or by way of development, require that the system must conform to the OASIS ECF specification, of which the most current version is ECF 4.01.  Recently IJIS, a 503(c)(3) non-profit organization providing data sharing expertise to governmental bodies, has made the IJIS Springboard Certification tools available for eFiling systems, with which courts and developers can test their systems for conformance with the OASIS ECF standard.

Why do ECF standards matter? As Jim Cabral, longtime member and current chair of the LegalXML ECF TC, observes, an E-Filing system must 1) Collect data and documents; 2) Satisfy court rules, and 3) Communicate progress. He goes on to say, “The full benefit of E-Filing is only achievable if the data and documents can be integrated into the court record with little or no intervention…. Integration between E-Filing systems and services requires common technical and functional standards for data and document interoperability….”

Viewing the standards saga as a Lord of the Rings type epic, ECF 1.0 would have been the Hobbit – really a “prequel”. On that scale, ECF 4 is probably the end of Book One – The Fellowship of the Ring. We’ve come a long, long ways. But in many respects, the journey is really only starting. In fact it may be more like Game of Thrones: It just gets more complicated and involved.

That’s because the real challenges lay at the business level. While different courts (and even different parts of the same court) share numerous similarities and commonalities of practice, the differences are still myriad and deep. Moreover, there are an infinite number of ways to implement compliant systems, depending on the types of strengths and features desired. For these reason, the OASIS ECF specification is necessarily general, flexible, and extensible, so that each court can modify and extend it to meet its particular needs, while still remaining compliant.

The down side is that not all the needs of all courts can be fully addressed at once. For instance, while major case types (civil, criminal, dissolution of marriage, etc.) are included, others are not. Likewise, while the specifications exist to electronically serve parties already on a case, original service remains outside the specification’s current scope. Payment processing creates a lot of extra work, so inclusion could yield big benefits. ECF 4.0 provides support for appellate cases; and future releases may extend to non-case related filings and administrative court matters.

The LegalXML TC is currently working on ECF 5.0, which Cabral describes as “evolutionary; not revolutionary”.   5.0 seeks to fill some gaps and add some much-desired functionality.   Specifications for Children, Youth, and Family Services matters will be included. Also, what Cabral calls “Miniature Original Service”, where original service can be made electronically on Registered Agents, is being worked on, as well as Scheduling of an Initial Hearing.

The OASIS ECF standards are open and public. The Committee hopes to have a draft of ECF 5.0 ready for public comment by the Court Technology Conference (CTC) in September, 2015. The Committee invites and seeks ideas, comments, and feedback through their public site and email.

Finally, Cabral solicits the engagement of the court community in proactively addressing the business and policy questions that the standards-setting efforts make manifest. The desire for original eService provides a good example. Even service on Registered Agents through eService will require rule, procedural, and possibly statutory changes. Expect such change proposals to be politically fraught.

The ECF standards journey has been and will continue to be long but essential. Courts will be well advised to watch, adopt, and get involved with adopting and modifying ECF standards now and into the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future.

Coming up next: Blog 3 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Funding

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Additional OASIS ECF 4.0 Resources:

7 Steps to Electronic Filing with Electronic Court Filing 4.0

ECF Quick Start (Video)

Background Buzz (More reflections from NACM)

73_background buzz

Despite the undisputed convenience and lower cost of online and virtual conferences, there will always be hard to replicate benefits from live conferences. Good conferences, in addition to the material presented, include networking and information exchanges that occur outside of and ancillary to the formal sessions. Moreover, I have found that most court conferences (and all the good ones) have a “buzz.”

I think the buzz from last fall’s Court Technology Conference and this winter’s NACM Mid-Year Conference have an interesting sub-theme of a major change in the wind.

Ever since the onset of the tsunami that now goes by name of “The Great Recession,” the background buzz at court technology conferences has been centered around catastrophically shrinking budgets and the dilemma of the need to invest in technology to meet the budget crisis, with no money to invest. My sense, from this year’s conferences, is that, while courts aren’t out of the budgetary woods yet (and probably will never be entirely), the focus of the conversation has changed. There’s still lots of discussion about cost benefits and how to best finance Information Technology infrastructure, but the attitude is, it’s happening and it’s going to continue to happen at an ever-increasing rate. So the buzz has now morphed to, “What does that mean? What’s going to happen? How do we ride this tiger and not become lunch?”

A not-so-secret fact of life for IT folks for the past few decades has been that one major (unacknowledged) strategy of a lot senior executives and judges regarding technology planning was to make certain that actual implementation would occur sometime AFTER their own retirement. In many ways, The Great Recession played right into that strategy.

No more. Most of the managers at CTC and NACM realize the change is going to occur on THEIR watch, and indeed is already under way.

In some ways, it feels like waking up from a long dream. True, some courts have pressed forward during the hard times. Still, many others have had to either postpone or greatly reduce their efforts, creating a huge, pent-up backlog of projects. Justice system pressures that were stressing court IT infrastructure five years ago are now past critical.

One result is that some questions from five years ago are simply not relevant today. For example, how tightly should document management be integrated with the Case Management System?

Courts are increasingly finding that CMS systems that provide “bolt-on” document management that allows documents to be stored with the case, as opposed to full-featured ECM, seriously limit the flexibility, leverage, systems integration and scalability required in today’s – and tomorrow’s – integrated justice system environment.

Likewise, is it better to start with ECM implementation first, then move to e-filing or vice-versa? Today, it’s pretty widely understood that courts need both; they need them universally and they need them yesterday. Attempts to implement ECM without e-filing run head-first into painful tradeoffs and limitations. Attempts to implement e-filing absent tight integration into a robust ECM with court-centric configurable workflow feel like building an airport on an island with no bridges to the mainland: passengers arrive; but they have nowhere to go.

So the talk seems to be turning to emerging Best Practices. Some of them include paper on demand, make e-filing mandatory, plan for and implement configurable workflow with your first (not last) implementation phase, and get in front of legislative and rule changes through ongoing and committed efforts across the justice system.

My guess is that the pace and penetration of ECM implementation in courts will continue to accelerate. The reason for the “What does it mean?” buzz is that people are realizing that, however implementation happens, it’s either occurred, occurring, or about to occur, and the planning for court life in the new IT paradigm, the vanguard of which is now ECM, is far from complete.

Exciting times.