What the “Third Wave” Means for Court Technology

By Dave Hawkins, CEO, ImageSoft

I attended the Inc. magazine GrowCo Conference in New Orleans last month. Somewhere between the seafood gumbo, the crawfish étouffée, and the jumbalaya, Steve Case of AOL fame served up a prophetic message based on his newly revised book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. The title refers to the evolution of the Internet. The First Wave fostered the creation of the Internet with the requisite infrastructure – servers, cabling, network switches, portals, service providers, and the like. Companies such as Cisco, NetGear, CompuServe, Prodigy, NetScape and America Online rose to prominence, while Microsoft, Intel, HP, Gateway, and Dell grew rapidly by virtue of the new demand for personal computers and related software.


The Second Wave consisted of all the apps built to run on the Internet. This wave included tech firms providing new types of networking and social media services previously unavailable anywhere, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. It spawned new Internet-only retailers, most notably Amazon, as well as new ways to buy things, such as the online auction service provided by eBay. At the same time, the Second Wave saw the meteoric rise of eCommerce from brick-and-mortar chains that transitioned to online retailing. Department stores, booksellers, pharmacies, and even automakers discovered they needed to forge new online identities to keep their customer bases from dissipating.

The Third Wave will involve the transformative integration of the Internet into all facets of everyday life. In the future, calling a device “Internet-enabled” will sound as silly as calling something “electricity-enabled” today. Steve Case highlighted several major arenas in which the Third Wave will bring revolutionary progress: education, healthcare, transportation, food production and city management. In healthcare, for example, Third Wave technologies will facilitate much greater precision in medicine, allowing doctors to edit genetic code using the power of genomics and data analytics. Fitness trackers will evolve into hardware and software for capturing a full range of vital signs on a daily basis, collecting and analyzing the data to alert patients and their doctors of potential health issues before they happen. When you go to see the doctor, they will already have this data to help answer their diagnostic questions such as “When did it start bothering you?” The implications for disease management, home health care, and epidemic tracking are astounding.

But what about the justice industry, which is ImageSoft’s primary area of expertise? What will the Third Wave bring in the way of improving the American justice system? Today, even courts that go “paperless” still use paper at some point in the case-processing chain. They may, for example, offer eFiling, but print the file once received, or perhaps keep it electronic until a judge needs to sign it, and then have it printed at that point. In the Third Wave, courts will seamlessly integrate tools to keep case records electronic from start to finish. On the front end, lawyers, police officers, and even self-representing litigants will have the ability to eFile documents to initiate a case, and may utilize automated document package creation to expedite their initial case filings. These tools will be particularly helpful for the poor, the disabled, the medically incapacitated, and incarcerated persons to give them much greater access to justice than is available today. New tools will also allow simple cases such as traffic violations to be handled remotely; imagine being able to contest your speeding ticket without needing to take a half day off work to go to court.

Read here how courts can stay electronic from start to finish.


Once a case is initiated, the documents can remain electronic throughout the court process via document management and workflow tools to enable access for all parties to a case as well as the related court personnel. Closing a case can also stay electronic, as new eSignature tools are structured to focus on speed and reduce cumbersome repetitive steps, which were impediments associated with older products.

Case cited three factors which will be of utmost importance during this Third Wave: partnerships, policy, and perseverance. As I listened to him speak, I contemplated the changes that are already taking place in the justice technology arena. Forward-thinking court systems are partnering with technology vendors to integrate best-of-breed solutions to automate all aspects of the court process. As for policy, institutes such as the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, have piloted policy initiatives to standardize eFiling compliance nationwide. Through it all, perseverance will certainly be required to bring the justice system’s “late adopters” into this next wave of technological advancement.

ImageSoft is working alongside our partners Hyland (makers of OnBase for enterprise content management), Mentis (which offers aiSmartBench and other court tools), and Court Innovations (which provides Matterhorn online dispute resolution system) to reshape the court technology landscape to meet the demands of the Third Wave.

By the time I left New Orleans, I was “jazzed” thinking about the possibilities. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to create a better future for our courts and their many constituents.

What do you think of Steve Case’s vision for the future?


Too Good To Pass Up

The Time: The 13th Century A.D.

The Place: Western Europe The Government: The Holy Roman Empire

The Legacy Technology: Vellum and Parchment

The New (well, to Europe, anyway) Technology: Paper

The Law: No Document on Paper May Be Considered An Official Document

89_too goodWhile it may be true that I have — to put it charitably – a tendency to imagine facts and events that never actually occurred, even I couldn’t make this one up. While conducting some background research, I stumbled on this incredible factoid:

In 1221, in response to the recent (to Europe) introduction of paper, which threatened to upend more than a few apple carts, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Second declared that paper could not be used for the “official” rendering of a document and that documents on paper were therefore of no legal force and effect.

Yep. You could USE paper; but to make it official, you had to copy it to vellum or parchment. I mean, let’s face it, paper just doesn’t smell right. For that, you need animal carcasses. (Not coincidentally, the wealthy European landowners with herds of sheep and cattle had a considerable stake in this policy. Is this ironic? Take a look at “Who Is That Lurking in the Shadows and take a wild guess what I think.)

One can only imagine the work-arounds. Paper, being cheaper to make, easier to handle and transport, more readily available, more easily stored and accessed, and much less environmentally sensitive, was undoubtedly being used whenever possible. However, at the last step, some monk or another would need to copy the content onto vellum or parchment. Doubtless a paper copy was also retained so it could be more easily and safely stored, accessed and used long after the parchment copy had reverted to rawhide from humidity or crumbled into dust or both.

And so, it appears, the world of dual systems persisted in Europe for awhile. Everyone is familiar with the great technological, cultural, artistic and social strides in Europe over the next couple hundred years – namely, not much to speak of. They aren’t called “The Dark Ages” for nothing. Anyway, operating with dual, redundant, inefficient record maintenance systems seems like it fit right in.

Eventually, the alarm clock went off: The printing press was invented. And guess what: Animal skins didn’t work too well in printing presses. Rules or no rules, paper took over in very short order, and Europe woke up with the Renaissance.

Now, far be it from me to blame The Dark Ages on regressive policies inhibiting the adoption of technological improvements in document management. After all, the Dark Ages started hundreds of years earlier (except, of course, in Asia, where paper had already been introduced; but I swear I’m not trying to make a connection). And banning paper was hardly the only reactionary restriction erected at the first sign of change. But still, let’s face it, it couldn’t have helped.

Here is my real point: I’m sure Fred II had some very intelligent, and possibly well-meaning people urging him to stop the dangerous trend toward unproven paper technology when, after all, writing on parchment and vellum had been going on for generations at least. But seen from today’s vantage point, it looks really silly.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that current requirements to maintain a paper or microfiche (“machine-readable”) copy of an “official” document is going to look pretty silly to our descendants; and a lot sooner than eight hundred years in the future. In fact, it’s an increasingly tough case to make with a straight face today.

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.



What Is An “EFM”, and Why Should I Care?

When I first started watching Star Trek, which was well after it was cancelled, I didn’t see them in order and had no background as to the “universe” in which the stories were supposedly taking place.   Among other things, I used to chuckle at the fact that everyone, aliens of all stripes, as well as humans, always understood each other.  It didn’t matter if the aliens were of long-standing acquaintance, or if they came from a hither-to unknown galaxy or dimension– everyone spoke and understood English.

Later I came to find out that somewhere in the storyline, Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek series, had provided a technological (if fictional) explanation: The Universal Translator.  A handy thing to have when you’ve got people speaking a lot of different languages and don’t know what the next one will be.


So what does this little vignette have to do with document management for courts?  Well, the same principle applies in the realm of e-filing.  Consider: When a court implements an e-filing solution (EFS), it can tell its partners — attorneys, prosecutors, and others — how the documents are to be submitted.  The rules, processes, and protocols revolve around the particular court practices, as well as the technological structure and needs of thee e-filing system.  The filers can incorporate those rules and standards into their practices, and all is good.

Everything works well, until….  another court decides to implement e-filing.  Since there’s going to be a certain number of filers who file with both courts, their lives just got a bit more complicated.  Now, the second court can elect to implement the same type of EFS and do everything the same way as the first court.  Or, all courts in an area could decide, beforehand, which EFS they’d all get, etc., etc.

The point is, there’s likely to be variety.  Even worse, it’s hard to predict just WHEN or WHERE the variety will emerge.  Courts may not, as a matter of course, keep track of what OTHER courts their business partners do business with are doing.  Often, after years of operating in blissful independence, separate “islands” find themselves connected.  For example, formerly “local” law firms may expand to a regional scope.  Increasing world shrinkage, caused by faster communications, may give rise to more jurisdictional overlap.  And so on.

Enter the Electronic Filing Manager (EFM).  Like the Star Trek “Universal Translator”, the EFM allows each court to conduct e-filing activities with multiple filers, many of whom must deal with different courts that speak varying e-filing “languages”.

The EFM works by providing one common set of protocols that users of any e-filing system can use.  The filers then send their documents to the EFM[BL1] .  On the other end, each court provides the EFM with its e-filing technical standards and requirements.  The EFM can then “translate” the information from each e-filer into the format required by the particular court.

The key to this solution is the use of a common EFM by all of the courts in the area.  To this end, some states have started to provide for the introduction of EFMs to facilitate statewide e-filing. Doing so allows each court to continue to implement any new system or to use whatever e-filing system it has already implemented.  In all cases, e-filers will be able to e-file in all courts in one way, using the same process, thereby removing one of the greatest impediments to full scale e-filing.

As we are all finding out, an awful lot of what was science fiction in the ’60s is, or will become, the reality of our age.  With the advent of Electronic Filing Managers, chalk up another one for Gene Roddenberry.

Court Document Retention


In the interest of full disclosure, let me say, up front, that I believe both ends of the Court Document Retention discussion will be laid to rest and ultimately forgotten over the next five to 10 years, if not sooner. By “both ends” I mean, first, the question of “In what medium (paper, microfiche, or digital) should court records keep particular documents?” and second, “What to do with court documents (regardless of medium) once the retention period expires?”

My reasoning is that societal and governmental trends vis-a-vis public records (and I think, particularly, court records), are rapidly and inexorably moving toward requiring perpetual retention of all documents, particularly as storage costs continue to shrink.

Notwithstanding my (admittedly rosy) prediction though, that is not the world courts live in today. Consequently, there is a lot of effort being expended to remove the paper/michrofiche requirement barrier. As previously discussed, that can’t happen too soon .

Beyond the anachronistic medium requirement, under current laws and policies, courts are going to have to continue to manage which documents to keep and for how long. And rarely considered, but extremely costly, is the flip side of document retention: document purging and disposal once the retention period expires.

Every court knows the pain, expense and conflict involved in purging documents. With paper documents, even the best systems are highly labor-intensive, and usually involve multiple checks, verifications and quality controls to assure that nothing is inadvertently purged that should be kept. First, there is the management to keep track of when files and documents should be purged. It’s not as simple as a one-time calendaring at the case’s conclusion: What if something else happens in the case later to extend the time?

Once identified, in some instances, some documents must be physically removed from the case file while others are left in. In others (if not all for some case types), someone must go through the entire physical file to make sure there is not some “keeper” filed inside by mistake.

Then there’s the question of what to do with all that paper. (By the way, microfiche, being also physical, has corresponding problems). You can’t just toss it in the recycle bin — there are confidentiality considerations. If you outsource (a common solution), the service provider usually has to be bonded, provide security assurances, etc. And, ahem, they charge…

A dirty little secret among many courts is that they don’t actually purge until they have run out of storage space, because the cost of storage space, while not insignificant, is a lot less that the cost of purging in a legally and procedurally acceptable manner.

Given these factors, consider this: Every paper document a court receives or keeps — even if the court does absolutely nothing with it — is creating a downstream expense. Think you’ll move to an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system and then just go digital “Day Forward”, leaving as many old, sleeping paper dogs (I mean documents) to lie? You might want to take into account what those documents are going to cost to get rid of.

One of the major benefits of ECM, and one that I think gets far too little credit in up-front financial business case development, is that it massively cuts the cost of compliance with the current requirements for document purging and destruction. From the time of receipt or creation, the document can be managed for retention, and ultimately, purging. If the policies change, no problem; the workflow process will be changed and the document correctly managed under the new rules. When the time comes to purge, varying levels of review can be selected and administered. Destruction itself can be securely accomplished, monitored, documented and later audited.

While courts are permitted/required to purge and destroy old documents (and no one but me is predicting that won’t be forever), that fact in itself provides huge, if not independently sufficient, incentive to move as expeditiously as possible to ECM.


One of the interesting factoids about progress is that in the nineteenth century, ninety-seven percent of the population was engaged in producing and distributing food for everybody.  By the mid-twentieth century, the figure was down around three percent.  Note that the population during that time had more than quadrupled.   However you look at it, an enormous amount of resources have been re-directed from the basic task of feeding the population.

There are many ways to look at and value (or decry) this phenomenon.  Here is one:  Those resources have been freed up for other things, including space exploration, medical advances, increased education, individual family housing, more flavors of ice cream, and on and on.  Granted, the world today faces serious challenges.  Nevertheless, it is indisputable that overall quality of life and standard of living have improved during that time across the board.  And, we don’t have ninety-seven percent of the population as unemployed farmers.

I make this observation as I consider today’s courts and related justice systems as they move toward transformation from physical documents and manual record management to Electronic Content Management (ECM) and a paper-on-demand court model.

Historically, a huge proportion of court resources have been dedicated to document and record management.   There have always been many more record clerks than judges in most courts.  Skill requirements included document processing, file creation and assembly, file storage, file retrieval, file transportation, copying, file security, etc.

As courts move forward, they are finding less and less need for those basic, manual skill sets.  More and more, ECM systems free up the resources to undertake higher-order tasks such as direct judicial support, customer service and specialty court functions.  As time goes by, this trend will only accelerate.

None of this is to say that the path is either straightforward or easy. Generally speaking, when courts make the transformation from paper documents to ECM, they must initially do so largely within the context of existing resources and infrastructure.  That means that the courthouses, offices and often related justice agencies, are usually designed and located with physical document management in mind.   A significant number, if not a majority, of the support staff are primarily trained and experienced in dealing with and managing paper documents and files.   While internal processes can often be adjusted as part of the implementation, in many cases inter-agency or customer-facing processes must remain or at least “imitate” the old, paper-centric processes.

Following initial implementation, however, these “legacy” resources and infrastructure will, over time, give way to resources that are positioned to fully utilize the capabilities of the new systems.  Staff previously trained in processing of paper documents and files will be re-trained and re-assigned.  Work spaces and physical plant will be re-located and re-furnished; and eventually, as new facilities are built, they will be appropriately designed without the encumbrances of the old systems.  Newly recruited staff will bring skill sets directed toward the higher-order activities.

As any veteran of paradigm-changing technology implementations knows, the down-stream adjustment is neither straightforward nor easy.  As much as it seems that once the seriously challenging effort to implement a new system is completed the organization should be able to sit back and coast, that just isn’t the way life works.

So, for those who expected all rainbows and lollipops, sorry to disillusion you.  But I don’t bring this point up just to be a “Debbie Downer”.    The point is that it is really easy to get caught up in the intensity and immediacy of implementation and be sorely tempted to use whatever workarounds are expedient, without considering the longer-range world into which you are moving.   When planning for and working through initial implementation, time and effort taken to look beyond the immediate “sturm und drang” to plan for the future, when the relics of the old paradigm have finally been replaced will pay big dividends.

Once this process has run its course, the level of service provided by the courts and wider justice system will be considerably greater than anything possible in the old, paper-centric world.   Future generations will be astounded when they stumble across figures showing the percentage of resources courts used to devote to document management in “the old days”.



Gazing Into the Crystal Ball

The Swami

I recently responded to a survey that asked, among other things, what drivers might affect Paper On Demand becoming close to universal in courts by the year 2025. Given the difficulty of predicting what is likely to happen next week, attempting to make predictions over ten years out seems to be hypothetical in the extreme. Nevertheless, the exercise has some very useful attributes.

For one thing, it allows consideration of what happens after today’s current problems and challenges have been overcome. Quite naturally, we tend to focus on immediate, existing, and short-term barriers (and benefits). Things like anachronistic court rules, implementation expense, resistance to change, and so on dominate our planning.

Likewise, short term benefits – one of the most urgent being financial – tend to be the major areas of focus. Longer- term benefits, such as improved public service, also get attention. All of these factors are motivators that powerfully support the case for migration to paper on demand.

But the existence of good reasons does not always translate to the obvious result. In this case, beyond the known benefits, what reasons, if any, exist that make us believe that paper on demand might be ubiquitous in courts by 2025?

Donning my Swami turban, I came up with the following points:

• Laws and public expectations regarding access, searchability, selective and flexible redaction, and security (both existential and content) of public records will force courts – and all governmental (and most private) entities to maintain all records, including documents, electronically.

• Cost advantages, which are currently arithmetical (up to double the cost of implementation), are rapidly being realized to be geometric (several times the cost of implementation). In the very near future, they will be seen to be exponential (ten times or more of the cost of implementation). Others may disagree with this prediction; I would point out that the savings continue indefinitely into the future. Also, I believe that the changes will be that significant. In fact, I think every current estimate of savings will prove to be too conservative; but we’ll see.

The key driver here will be automated workflow, which is simply not practical with physical documents at anything like the scale of electronic documents. The efficiencies enabled by electronic document management with workflow will be disproportionately due to operational efficiencies made possible versus direct, document-related savings (like storage space, materials, labor-free access, etc.).

• Existent and emergent technologies will increasingly require electronic documents in order to be used, in the same way that online banking requires internet access or printers require electricity. A court still utilizing physical documents in 2025 will be like a court with no electricity in 1940, or a court with no telephones in 1970, or a court with no internet in 2013. It won’t be acceptable.

• Standards, already coalescing, will be mature and ubiquitous.

This list could easily be much longer. And, much as I’d like to think I will have a perfect prediction record, one or more of them may well be wrong. The great thing about surveys like this is that they generate disparate opinions and allow for reasoned discussion and debate. The point of speculating on the farther-out future is not to know in advance what will happen (other than death and taxes, generally impossible) but to get a sense for where things are headed. I for one will be very interested to see the opinions across the community. The consensus will be interesting; and I’m guessing that most will agree the question is not “Whether”, but “When and How” courts become universally paper on demand. As far as the drivers are concerned (as well as the longer-term implications, which I’ll discuss in a future post), if the past is any indication, the more outrageous the prediction, the more likely it is to come true.