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 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. 

 

Attending the National Association for Court Management Conference Debrief and Dancing at the Library of Congress

By: Josh Townsend, Account Executive, ImageSoft

134_postNACM-2Washington, D.C. – hands down – is one of the prettiest and most tourist friendly cities in the world. It’s just one of the many reasons why we enjoyed the recent annual conference of the National Association for Court Management, this year held in conjunction with the International Association for Court Administration. This year’s conference was a weeklong examination of various challenges and solutions facing judicial administration professionals and judges, including technology and its deployment. And it included a spectacular evening of networking, fun and great food, dancing the night away at the spectacular Library of Congress after hours.

How to integrate efiling with case workflow

Among the themes we heard from attendees was an overarching question of how to deal with efiling and electronic case workflow, both for states that have and have not mandated efiling. Courts are eager to streamline their operations and shepherd scarce resources to the most strategic areas.

As states are beginning to use efiling processes to receive documents, court administrative staff are looking for answers as to how to roll out an automated process and how to tie efiling with the various case management systems used by other courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement. So many efiling systems are available; however, many do not integrate with existing case management systems.

Looping judges into the electronic case workflow

A second theme we heard at the conference was how to create a system that fits the needs of judges.

When a state mandates efiling, courts want document management with efiling that has the ability to move documents from clerks to judges using an automated workflow and case management. Courts might receive efiled documents, but if the court has to put them into a PDF and print them out for the judges to use, the streamlining process isn’t working.

Judges have specific requirements as far as case management is concerned. Once the court receives a document, how will the court give judges access to the documents? Similarly, courts are looking for a process that mimics paper processes so that judges can annotate files, search, bookmark, add highlights, etc. Each judge works in a unique way – file views must be customizable to each judge. Conference attendees wanted to know how to customize the automated solution to fit the particular needs of each judge while providing an intuitive experience.

JusticeTech from ImageSoft answers efiling concerns

TrueFiling, JusticeTech’s electronic filing solution from ImageSoft, expedites justice by automating file handling and streamlining case workflow. It is a Web-based solution, available 24/7, that integrates with any case management and document management system. Created to meet or exceed industry standards, TrueFiling is Oasis ECF conformant.

TrueFiling automates the creation of new cases, allows search functions through existing files, and streamlines the addition of new filings to open cases. Courts can send data from approved filings to your case management system, eliminating manual re-keying. Courts reduce costs related to administrative overhead, storage, postage, office supplies, and more.

TrueFiling couples with OnBase single enterprise information platform to manage content, workflow and cases. It helps courts become more efficient and agile in providing justice.

OnBase captures files and organizes them into a single electronic case file. It automates processes and creates routing rules for case file processing. Content is accessible from various devices, anywhere, anytime and can be shared among stakeholders, including law enforcement, prosecutors, DOT, etc. Maintaining the security and integrity of content is ensured with a full audit trail and granular security. Reporting using a set of 180 pre-configured report templates or creating customized reports is an easy process, which reduces the burden of providing information to other agencies.

Solutions for the bench

Courts are looking for solutions that give judges the freedom to design case file viewing and markup to fit their particular styles and processes. aiSmartBench gives judges a solution that allows them to customize file management while still integrating with the host of different case management systems. aiSmartBench currently integrates with 17 different case management systems; it is designed to integrate with any case management system that can exchange and provide the required data. Moreover, it gives the judge the power to customize how files appear and how the judge interacts with files.

What’s next?

We’re looking forward to following up with attendees from the NACM conference over the next few weeks to continue to answer questions about streamlining court operations and saving resources.

While you were at the NACM conference, did you happen to see our crumpled paper video?

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.

133_wave

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?

 

Why eFiling Alone Isn’t Enough

By Steve Glisky, Government Practice Manager, ImageSoft

Courts making the transition from paper document filing to eFiling have taken an important first step in streamlining operations and saving resources. EFiling is a good place to start since it helps satisfy constituent demand for greater online access. EFiling alone, however, typically falls short of achieving one of the most pressing goals of the court: eliminating the burden of maintaining a paper court file. 69_mrs wormer

If a court makes eFiling mandatory, it’s only natural to think that the Clerk will soon stop maintaining paper. Many courts soon realize that their so-called document management system simply lacks the functionality required to meet the processing needs of the court.  Most of these solutions offer a simple document storage and retrieval system with file share links to their CMS. Once they’re confronted with process steps that require rules-based routing, most courts typically end up just printing, processing, and maintaining a dual paper case file.

The benefits of eFiling are multiplied when paired with a robust document management and workflow solution. Progressive courts use advanced document management and workflow with eFiling to achieve a true digital case flow management environment.


To learn more about avoiding the printing of eFiled documents for court processes, click here.

Here are a few key features to consider when evaluating a document management solution for your court.

Electronic Case File

Presentation and preservation of the electronic case file is the cornerstone of the electronic court. An intuitive electronic case file dramatically increases buy-in from key stakeholders and creates a better-than-paper experience with features such as:

  • Intuitive filing structure: Case files are organized and managed using color-coded tabs with advanced filtering and sorting to make finding the right documents easier.
  • Revision control: The system keeps and maintains prior revisions, preserving the integrity of the case file as documents get marked-up and changed.
  • Document history: All activity associated with a document should be logged and be easily accessible, including workflow transaction history, who viewed/ printed/annotated/updated/signed, etc.
  • Redaction: Confidential information must be redacted before the public can view documents. Courts need a method for redaction without having to print off digital files or photocopy paper ones, redact, and then scan in for public access. Those courts with high case volumes should consider an automated method to reduce the burden on staff.
  • Document retention: The system automatically purges documents from the electronic case file according to the Clerk’s document retention and disposal schedule.
  • Security: All roles within the justice system have secured access to the electronic case file in the way that works best for them, only allowing access to the documents that they have rights to view, i.e., public, sealed, confidential, and expunged records.
  • Full text search: Searching document content across the entire case file provides high value for both the judge and staff. The ability to search across multiple cases is also a major benefit.
  • Mobile device support: Since the physical case file no longer exists, the Court must consider how the parties will access the electronic case file using tablets, smart phones, or some other device (e.g., kiosks).

 

Workflow

Workflow is the single most significant component to a digital case flow management environment because of the process efficiencies it creates. All courts have defined steps that govern how documents are processed. Workflow allows for automated routing and processing of electronic documents and data. Consider these key workflow features:

  • A rules engine with a simple interface to manage step-by-step routing rules: Authorized court personnel should be able to maintain these rules and reduce IT dependency.
  • Electronic forms with a forms designer and management tool to convert paper forms into electronic forms: The case jacket and decision sheet are commonly used electronic forms.
  • Electronic signatures and markup capability that allow a user to markup and edit a document before signing: Consider a solution with judicial stamps with support for both top and bottom line text and proxy signing for authorized users.
  • Electronic notification of parties: This reduces significant postage and improves processing speed.
  • Electronic certification: It improves service and integrity without having to print and physically seal documents. The delivery should include an authentication site for verifying document authenticity, an audit trail of recipient access, and a method to expire documents.
  • Packet preparation organizes a case file with a coversheet according to specific requirements set forth by the higher court. Courts typically use this for bind-overs and appeals.
  • Standard interface for connecting and exchanging information with CMS.
  • Electronic arraignment that streamlines packet creation, arraignment and the document signature process: It should support both video and face-to-face arraignments.
  • A judicial dashboard: It provides an intuitive tool for both the judge and staff to process the electronic docket.

Summary

Courts are adopting eFiling at a much greater rate to improve customer service and online access. Prior to making eFiling mandatory, courts should carefully consider the capabilities of their document management and workflow platform to see if it’s going to meet their requirements for creating a true digital case flow management environment. Equally important is to determine how best to map their manual based processes to the new electronic paradigm. Finally, the new solution should accommodate the unique needs of your judicial officers.

Those that have successfully made this transition understand that it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize the efficiency and transparency of the court.

Is your court ready to move beyond eFiling?

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

By Brad Smith, Senior Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

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

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

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

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


Click here for more information on JusticeTech TrueFiling™

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

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

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

The Advantages of Mandated eFiling

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

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

Which approach has your court considered?

 

Hacking Outside the Box

I think it was Arnold Palmer who remarked that beginners often find golf easy because they haven’t had time to learn how hard it is. That’s essentially the sentiment that drives the “Hackathon” mentality. At e-Courts 2016 last month, the Court Hackathon sessions were among the most interesting and the most eye-opening.

121_hacking

I didn’t know, going in, what a “Hackathon” is. I assumed it was a bunch of real-life Big Bang Theory young techies trying to break court enterprise systems.

It turns out I was half right. It does involve a bunch of BBT young techies. However, rather than breaking things, they are building them. Hackathoners enter a convention hall-size room filled with tables, chairs, computers, and various forms of highly caffeinated beverages and high caloric-content junk food. They are tasked with conceiving, designing, and creating a working, useful application. They have something like thirty-six hours in which to do it. They form teams and have at it. At the end, they show what they’ve built.

The really exciting part is that these folks, being not only young, but also largely unencumbered by any idea of the internal operations of the justice system in general or the courts in particular, are literally unaware that certain things JUST CAN’T BE DONE.

At one session, the Grand Prize winners presented their winning solution (their presentation, along with the others from the conference, is available online).

In many ways, the actual solution took a back seat to the attitude, approach, and world view of the “Hackathoners”. These young people view courts and the justice system from the perspective of people who have never, since the time they were slapped with GPS bracelets in the hospital before they were all the way born, known a world without the Internet, Google, Amazon, smartphones, and so on. When they have a question, they expect to be able to ask in normal language and to instantly get a straightforward, relevant response.

When describing how the team determined what “problem” to solve, they told a very non-flattering (to the justice agency) story of trying to report a theft. The online interface consisted of a half-dozen or more text-packed screens requesting myriad information, almost none of which seemed (to the victim) to be even slightly relevant to his attempt to report the crime. (The victim’s date of birth? His employer? Really?)

Now, from an internal agency standpoint, the question would be, “Well, what’s wrong with that? We’re on the cutting edge – we’re actually using Form-Driven E-Filing. Not only that, the citizen (to whom we have outsourced our data entry) can access it online. You mean you’re not thanking us for this?

The team decided to attempt to develop a more friendly experience for the user. They selected a court application: responding to an eviction (FED) notice. To see how it works, watch the presentation, which includes a demo.

Here’s what I think is particularly important: The key to the solution is what is known as Natural Language Processing (NLP). You know it as Siri, Cortina, Alexa, Echo, and so on. As the team pointed out, only now is the processing power becoming available to make NLP a part of practical solutions.

So here’s the punch line insofar as it relates to ECM and E-Filing. Remember the Six Building Blocks of ECM?  (Feel free to go back and review… ) Well, Number One is Capture. And Capture is starting to move to interactive, NPL interfaces: the next evolution beyond form-driven data capture.

The data so captured from natural conversations will feed into the Workflow engine. And the results will in turn be consumed by, among other things, the NLP itself as it hones its ability to effectively interact with users, making sense of what it hears and giving appropriate and meaningful responses.

Really, really exciting stuff. At least to a geek like me. The Hackathoners, not knowing any better, gave us a glimpse of where we’re all headed. Seemed to them to be the right thing to do.

 

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.