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?

ECM Support for Court Performance Measurement: M6 – Reliability and Integrity of Case Files

Recently I discussed the desirability of measuring court performance, and how Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow can be expected to deliver dramatic improvements in File Retrieval,[1] the first of three parts of CourTools Trial Court Performance Measure Six (M6), Reliability and Integrity of Case Files.

The other two standards under M6 are Content Reliability and File Organization and Completeness,[2]  both of which (like File Retrieval) will be greatly improved through implementation of ECM with workflow.  But I now believe there is another important contribution these technology tools can make to court performance improvement that I had not previously considered.

51_ECM Support-Measurement

I recently read the Michigan Supreme Court SCAO Trial Court’s October, 2011 Trial Court Performance Measures Committee Report[3].  The report summarizes efforts in several Michigan trial courts to use CourTools.  I particularly noted the observations concerning the labor-intensive nature of obtaining the necessary data for the Content Reliability and File Organization and Completeness standards.

That’s the usual conundrum: As Bill Gates observed in the interview cited in the previous post, the value of measuring performance cannot be overstated.  And yet, there is a price to pay in the effort to collect the data.  And the tough question is always, “Is the juice worth the squeeze”?  In an era when everyone is struggling just to stay even with daily responsibilities, “non-critical” activities, like collecting performance measurement data, are in a losing battle to get priority.

The Committee Report notes that the Content Reliability tool

“… measures an extremely important aspect of the court’s work: whether the court’s files are accurate. This tool is labor intensive. For every file reviewed, staff must go through each file page-by-page and compare it with the ROA, determining if everything in the file is on the ROA and everything on the ROA that requires a corresponding document is in the file… [T]he person reviewing the files must be knowledgeable about specific types of court files in order to know what they are looking for and to be able to understand the codes used on the ROA.”[4]

Similarly, the Organization and Completeness of the Case File tool

“…  allows the court to ensure that its files are being maintained in accordance with statewide standards. It also ensures that files have the required documentation for each case type. However, it is a labor-intensive task that requires each file be reviewed page-by-page. In addition, all of the files pulled for this exercise must be refiled by staff.”[5]

In other words, these measure are extremely critical, yet they require substantial time by the most skilled and knowledgeable (and probably busiest) people in the court.  It’s a Catch-22.

It occurs to me that ECM with workflow is exquisitely positioned to not only improve Content Reliability and Organization and Completeness of the Case File, but ALSO to provide effective, low-impact methods to harvest the data needed to measure and manage them.

Consider: In a properly designed and implemented ECM system with workflow, all documents will necessarily be in the system, indexed to the Register of Actions.  Rather than have staff “go through each file page-by-page and compare it with the ROA,” the task can be automated — and not just for a small sample set of files.  Exceptions (errors), when found, can not only be reported, but routed to appropriate work queues(s) for both correction and review of what caused the error.

Likewise, “statewide standards” can be captured in workflow rules, and each electronic case file could be evaluated against those rules to assure Organization and Completeness.   Again, both reporting and process improvement can be built into workflow.

Thus, ECM with workflow has the potential to provide a double win: Improvement of the Reliability and Integrity of Files AND automating the measurement and analysis needed to manage them.


[1]Stuck in Traffic“, [insert date of post], [insert link to post]

[2] CourtTools, Trial Court Performance Measures, National Center for State Courts, http://www.courtools.org.

[3] Trial Court Performance Measures Committee Report,  Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrative Office, October, 2011,  http://courts.mi.gov/Administration/SCAO/Resources/Documents/Publications/Reports/TCPM2011.pdf.

[4] Trial Court Performance Measures Committee Report

[5] Trial Court Performance Measures Committee Report