The Coming Wave – Preparing for Big Data

For those who aren’t sitting around contemplating the nature, trajectory, and implications of Big Data and Deep Learning, know that you are not alone. I’m pretty sure they haven’t yet hit the top of the cocktail circuit or social media current topics listings.

Which in some respects is interesting; because we are currently becoming immersed in them at about the same rate as if we were sitting in a hot tub being filled by a fire hose. You probably have heard of  Artificial Intelligence, driverless vehicles, Siri/Cortana/Alexa, Amazon Echo, IBM’s Watson, and so forth. The list, believe me, is way longer than almost anyone can imagine; and it’s growing exponentially.

Leave aside for now the technology that makes these applications possible. Their raw fuel is data, and lots of it. REALLY lots of it; hence the term “Big Data”.

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Courts receive, process, generate, communicate, and store data; and for decades automated data systems have helped courts to manage their data. Now, both the volume and the diversity of court data is exploding. Enough to be of great interest those seeking to utilize systems reliant on Big Data and Deep Learning technologies. Body camera imagery, virtual reality presentations, social media – these are just a few of the data sources TODAY. And as Pink Floyd pointed out, every day the paperboy brings more.


Click here to find out how you can effectively manage the data that is coming rapidly into your court.


Consider two ways of “communicating” what’s happening in a baseball game: A telegraph system using Morse Code, on the one hand; and TV with video, audio, imbedded windows, streaming information banners, one-click access to ancillary documents, videos, data bases, etc. Both pass along information. But the volume, speed, level, and depth are literally a universe apart.

Now, one could say, and it would be true, that even getting the Morse Code feed on a baseball game can be interesting, exciting, and informative. However, consider the same question regarding operation of a motor vehicle. Absent access to the massive amount of data, deep learning, and real-time data capture capabilities, operating a vehicle without active human direction isn’t just a different type of experience; it isn’t possible.

And that’s the level of the volume of data and information headed at the courts right now.

While most courts have taken, or at least are considering, ways to automate or improve their automation of their information processing and management, current and future scalability may not be receiving the attention needed. Speeding up both the coding and transmission of a Morse Code signal may increase how detailed a description  of the ball game can provided; but at its absolute best it will transmit only a small fraction of the “data” – and hence the information – surrounding the game.

More and more, courts are running up against similar IT limits. Legacy (and legacy-style) Case Management, Document Management, and E-Filing systems struggle just to capture all the data being thrown at them. Integrating it all, except in the most rudimentary fashion, much less providing the level of information to users, such as judges, police officers, and the public, that they have come to expect in today’s world, is too often well beyond their capabilities.

Systems that cannot smoothly capture, integrate, deliver, and manage late 20th Century and early 21st Century volumes and types of data and information have no prayer of scaling to the levels we are facing now and in the very short term future. In five to ten years, they may border on being entirely useless.

Thus, notwithstanding the indisputable immediate benefits technology currently offers courts,  the real argument for courts to implement the most robust, well-architected, scalable, integrated, configurable systems possible is that they have to have it already in place in order to have any chance of fulfilling their mission as the coming tidal wave of data and information hits the shore.

eFiling: Audit Trail and Confidentiality

This is Part 10 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 9 here.

To conclude this eFiling series, let’s look back at a few pieces posted in the past that dealt with the enhancement of both the audit trail and the control over confidentiality offered by eFiling.

Audit Trail

One of the fun pieces I wrote, inspired by a presentation David Slayton, included an explanation of the audit trail provided by a good eFiling system.

[David] says … “… I know EXACTLY where the document came from, and whose profile was used to send it.” Knowing that a document has come from the right place, and knowing whose secure profile was used to send it, constitute security orders of magnitude greater than a written signature on a piece of paper…

Taking David’s point a step further, in an appropriately implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow system, not only do you know where the document came from, you know where it’s been and where it’s supposed to be going. It’s like Billy’s trail in the Family Circus: it leaves its tracks. It keeps track of who has looked at it and when. It keeps track of what was done to it, by whom, and when. And, unlike Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t disappear.

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…. [I]n a properly implemented ECM with workflow system, not only do we know that the document comes from who it’s supposed to; we know whether or not it’s been altered since it was sent, who has touched it, where it’s been, where it’s heading, whether it’s behavior makes sense, and if not, what would make better sense.

Stalking the Wily Electronic Documents, January 12, 2015

In another piece, I got to use one of my favorite pieces of doggerel (“Last night I saw upon the stair/ A little man who wasn’t there…”) to illustrate how a well-designed ECM system provides auditable Record Integrity:

A reliable document Chain of Custody in the paper world is merely a means of attempting to protect the Principal of Integrity. (Albeit an expensive, labor-intensive, highly unreliable, almost-never-completely followed means). Even with special viewing areas and monitors, do courts control ALL access by ALL staff, ALL attorneys, and ALL judges, not to mention cleaning and security staff? Not usually.

ECM provides a built-in mechanism for maintaining an audit trail of the Chain of Custody for court documents, providing end-to-end assurance of document integrity. ECM users view documents on screen and don’t come in contact with the physical file. From identity and signature authentication (when needed) at the front end, through tracking who accesses each document and when, to ”locking out changes” to prevent tampering, ECM absolutely protects document integrity…

Proving the Negative, October 3, 2011

Confidentiality

Confidentiality has several aspects. There’s things like judge’s notes, intended only for the judge or designated persons. Then there’s confidential information, like Social Security Numbers, minors’ names, abuse victims’ addresses, and so on, contained in otherwise public documents. There are totally confidential documents, like Secret Indictments. There are confidential case types, like some juvenile matters or adoptions, where the entire case is confidential.

eFiling and ECM provide greater control of confidential information, at all levels of granularity – from individual data element to entire case. Who can see what can be tightly controlled and administered. So, for example, attorneys on confidential juvenile cases can see their clients’ files, but no others. Court employees and judges with clearance can see confidential data that has been redacted using automated, workflow-enabled tools making it invisible to unauthorized persons.

However, as I noted in the March 14, 2012 posting,

This does not mean courts should not carefully review and, if required, modify rules and statutes to make certain there are no unpleasant surprises … The paper-on-demand court environment IS different than the hard-copy environment. The area of Public Records discoverability has wrinkles in the paper-on-demand environment that never arise in the paper world…

… Recommended best practice:

1) Ensure that disclosure rules call out both electronic and paper work product as their own non-disclosable category of information;

2) Maintain the non-disclosable work product documents in separate document types from formal court records, with security configuration that prevents viewing by unauthorized system users; and

3) Support electronic document annotations that don’t technically alter the original document and have their own security distinct from the document

Assuring Judicial Work Product Confidentiality in a Paper-On-Demand Court, March 12, 2012

While the business case for eFiling generally emphasizes the savings, convenience, work process streamlining, and quality improvements, the benefits of having a robust, easily managed audit trail and greatly enhanced control over confidentiality certainly should not be overlooked as additional “low-hanging fruit” when moving to eFiling and ECM.

Electronic Filing: Law Firm Considerations

This is Part 9 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 8 here.

 Ten to fifteen years ago, some of the strongest advocacy for the rather radical idea of eFiling came from large law firms. While smaller firms had some serious doubts as to “what was in it for them”, larger firms had already learned (sometimes against their initial will) some major lessons from dealing with the then-nascent, mandatory, federal eFiling system. The biggest of these lessons may be loosely summarized as “eFiling is easier, cheaper, and more reliable than paper filing.”

Today, my technophobic wife, a long-time legal secretary, becomes frustrated and annoyed when she has to file a matter with a court that has yet to adopt eFiling. So much for the “It’s too complicated, too cumbersome, and too difficult” rants that I used to endure at the inception of eFiling.

69_mrs wormerRemoving the logistics of physically getting documents to court constitutes, in of itself, sufficient reason for law firms to appreciate eFiling. Firms are able to file from anywhere, at any time, immediately, and without sending anyone to the court or waiting for land mail to (hopefully) make its way to the destination. Even when “convenience fees” help fund the system, any fair accounting will rapidly conclude that the firm savings in staff salary, postage, and courier expense significantly mitigates, and probably exceeds any surcharge.

But the advantages (and cost savings) extend far beyond simply getting the documents to court. Most modern, robust eFiling systems also include automatic notice and confirmation of filing (or notice of rejection, to alert the firm there is a problem). The need to wait for a confirming postcard and then connect it with the file (all of which chews up more staff time) is eliminated; not to mention the potential for malpractice claims.

Moreover, the e-service capabilities of most modern eFiling systems probably generate even more dollar savings than the court filing piece. In two party cases, the savings will be significant. In multi-party cases, the savings can be extremely large. Again, the savings accrue on both ends of the transaction: On already filed cases, service on all parties is automatic. Moreover, confirmation/proof of e-service is ALSO automatic.

For firms doing bulk filings (like collections and small claims, for example), and for multi-party and class action matters, the entire process of claims and case handling can be streamlined along entirely new models.

There are, of course, some important areas of which firms must be aware and provide due diligence. With eFiling comes a host of new court rules. Where a firm deals with just one court, knowing that court’s rules and aligning the firm’s processes with them will take some effort. (As an aside, automated workflow can be of tremendous assistance.)

Far more common will be firms that deal with multiple courts. While there are various initiatives to achieve some form of standards, the fact is, just as has historically been the case, that it seems like no two courts do things exactly the same way.

Even courts using the same eFiling system may (and probably do) have differing rules. When filings are deemed received may be different. Rules for re-eFiling rejected filings may be different. Fee amounts may be different.

The same thing applies if a court is using an Electronic Filing Manager (EFM). While the actual mechanics of filing will be pretty similar for each court despite possible differences in their eFiling systems, each court is going to have its own set of rules. And as we all know too well, courts can be VERY sticky about insisting on adherence to their variation, no matter how obscure.

Fortunately, documentation, training, and “help desk” support has gotten very good. Many courts offer Continuing Legal Education sessions (with credit) for training and updates, and/or refreshers on the ins and outs of eFiling. Law firms should take advantage of it all and not skimp on staff (including attorney) training.

I expect that my wife reflects the typical view of law firm staff when she energetically (and without prompting from me) declares that she would never go back to the days before eFiling.

Coming up next: Blog 10 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Audit Trail and Confidentiality

 

Data-Centric eFiling

This is Part 6 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 5 here.

It’s easy to think of the key differentiating feature between traditional, paper document filing and eFiling as relating primarily to the method whereby the document is transported and received. That is, physically in traditional filing, and electronically in eFiling. And, of course, that is a key differentiating feature; but only one of many.

Beyond how the document is delivered, consider what is delivered. At the most primitive level, imaged documents – basically, pictures – can be delivered. PDF documents containing image and text are marginally better. Yes, these documents are electronic; but it’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” to find the relevant information on the page. eFiling documents in this way is referred to as “Document-centric eFiling”.

At the other end of the spectrum, there may be no document at all. Data is entered by the sender, validated, transmitted and stored by the eFiling system. Virtually all commerce on the Internet is done using a data-centric approach. The important point is that the focus is on the data, not on any particular document – and once you have validated data in a computer many other efficiencies are possible.

So why do many eFiling systems still use a document-centric approach? The answer lies in tradition. Courts are steeped in it, and the rules were developed before computers existed – so the paper document has reliably served the role as the primary communication vehicle for centuries.

Traditional documents still serve many functions. Most married couples would rather frame their wedding certificate than a URL, for instance. But where a document exists to be a vehicle for transmission and/or a repository of the data, it is simply in the way. So data-centric systems produce documents on-the-fly, when needed.

In addition, there are some very important side benefits to a Court or Prosecutor in adopting a data-centric model: 1) The recipient has reduced data entry costs (and less data entry errors), 2) The filer provides more complete data – because the eFiling system prompts and validates data along the way, 3) cases flow faster with less exceptions, 4) searching and managing cases is more productive, and many other benefits.

The spectrum from most primitive (playing “Where’s Waldo on a screen”) to most sophisticated (totally data-centric) has been labeled the eCourts Maturity Model.  The National Center provides an excellent overview by Bob Roper and Jorge Basta.  Using this model, courts can determine where they fall on the maturity spectrum.

The Maturity Model has two dimensions: First, how closely is data capture, transmission, and storage tied to documents (called the Forms/Documents Migration Dimension); and second, what is the business and technological environment of the court (called the System Characteristics dimension).

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eFiling Maturity Model
Bob Roper and Jorge Basta, eCourts Maturity Model, eCourts 2012, December 10, 2013

Along the Forms/Document Migration dimension, the spectrum runs from scanned paper (image based forms) to static PDFs  (static forms) to fixed PDF based forms with data fields (dynamic forms) to wizard-like data entry, where forms are generated later as needed (forms-free).

The Systems Characteristics include factors such as who is filing, what can the eFiling system do (what are its functions and features), how well does it integrate with other systems, how is the system designed (including whether it is based on standards), and how well can the court adapt its culture and business processes to include the new ways of doing things.

With the tremendous strides in the technological power and sophistication of not just eFiling but all court supporting technology, the real question for a court today has shifted  to where the court wants to be. While few may want to be stuck in the lower left corner, not every court is necessarily anxious to try to move all the way to the upper right (see, for example, In Praise of Tortoises). Is the court ready to let go of the paper and wet signatures? Does the court itself, or its partners, have the systems and infrastructure in place to support true forms-free filing?

The point here is that there is a long way to go on the eFiling journey. For lots of reasons, many of them covered in past pieces here, moving to pure data-centric eFiling offers profound benefits. But it takes planning, work, and commitment.  Using the eCourts Maturity Model as one tool can help structure these efforts.

Coming up next: Blog 7 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Criminal Cases

Workflow – The Life of a Document After Review

This is Part 5 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 4.

flintstonesAn image I use to describe eFiling without automated workflow is Fred Flintstone’s car: it looks automated; but somehow the driver is still doing all the work. From the filer’s perspective, once a document is filed, electronically or otherwise, the “processing” fun is over. But from the court’s perspective, receipt and acceptance of the document initiates an interconnected flow of activities, including identification, recording, and routing it across tasks, processes, and procedures through its lifecycle. This flow of activities is generally known as “workflow”.

Each workflow step has three basic parts. First, what it is. Second, decide what to do with it. Third, transport it to where the next step must be performed. With electronic documents, the third step obviously gets a lot easier, since the document need not be physically transported. But what about the first and second steps?

Consider for a moment the distinction between “Discretionary” and “Ministerial” decision-making. Discretionary decisions are those where the decision maker weighs the information and, based on his or her knowledge, experience, and authority choses which outcome or action would be most appropriate. Ministerial decisions, on the other hand, are those where the outcome is to be decided based on a set of rules known to the decision maker. A judge’s bail decision is discretionary. A traffic court referee’s determination of a fine amount, being based on a formula, is ministerial.

Discretionary decisions made by qualified people provide the “value added” in knowledge-based service industries like courts. In other words, that’s what the public is willing to pay for: well reasoned decisions.

When it comes to ministerial “decisions”, like where to send a document for the next step in a business process, while the rules may be complicated, following them does not require judgment; only knowledge of the rules.

Paradoxically, the more complicated the rules are, generally the more qualified is the person who must make the “decision”, both because that person is more likely to know the rules and because that person may be deemed more trustworthy to correctly follow them.

The result is that courts generally expend an enormous amount of their most valuable human resources on ministerial tasks that could be performed by anyone sufficiently versed in the rules. Meanwhile, those resources are considerably less available to provide the much higher value-added activities for which they are qualified. Indeed, in most courts, more time and effort goes into figuring out what to do with documents than is spent actually working with them.

Implementing eFiling, with or without also implementing automated workflow, certainly confers major benefits on the filers. From the court’s perspective, though, all other benefits pale before the benefits from implementing automated workflow.  A few years ago I wrote in a white paper:

“Where potential workflow improvements stand out, they tend to stand out impressively. Filing incoming mail, for instance, is a critical task requiring a high level of business knowledge. The individual performing this task must know how to “route” each incoming item (and often several items in one submission must be dis-aggregated and routed to separate locations), sort them into piles, then assure they are accurately fed into whatever distribution process is used to physically move them. In a system with properly implemented workflow, the document (usually self-identifying), once entered into the ECM system, will be automatically routed to the correct place.

“The first key savings is the time of the knowledgeable staff who no longer have to individually assess and route each document. Next is Elapsed Time savings: delivery can go from days or weeks to minutes. Then there is the savings not only of the reduction of lost and misrouted documents to near zero, but the elimination of the need for redundancies and safeguards that are commonly in place to deal with those errors when they inevitably happen in the paper document world.”

Short-Term Payback and Long Term Gain from Transitioning to a Paper-On-Demand Court, Jeffrey N. Barlow, 2011.

Yes; eFiling can be implemented without automating workflow. But it makes no sense.

Coming up next: Blog 6 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Data Centric eFiling

 

In Praise of Tortoises

Jeff is currently on vacation and the eFiling series will resume upon his return with part 2 – Electronic Court Filing Standards.

98_tortoiseReading U.S. supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary I am reminded of an episode from my parenting years involving my youngest daughter. Trying to get her to do something she didn’t want to do was like trying to get a tree to dance. (On the other hand, standing in her way once she decided to go after something has always been a good way to get run over.)

One year we signed her up for the city’s spring youth run. Great fun, good exercise, flashy medal…. The only problem was, she didn’t feel like running that day.

Now, most kids, surrounded by several hundred OTHER kids, not to mention countless adult supervisors, would have at least tried to keep up with the pack to avoid being identified as the one slow-poke. Not my daughter. In an impressive display of disregard for peer pressure and fear of public humiliation, she strolled. By the end, the adults around her were imploring her to pick up the pace; all to no avail.

Meanwhile, the audience, the other runners, and the subsequent heats all waited. And waited.

My daughter has since grown up to be a formidable, high-performance, successful professional. Interestingly, she uses BOTH traits to her advantage. So maybe she knew what she was doing.

But the wait was STILL frustrating.

With these fond memories in mind, I consider Chief Justice John Roberts’s Report, wherein he discusses the nature and change of technology, particularly Electronic Case Management, Electronic Document Management, and Electronic Filing, in the Supreme Court and in the courts in general. He unabashedly acknowledges not only the usually slow pace of court adoption of new technology, but that the slowness of the pace and resistance to change is in many ways intentional.

“[T]he courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity. Courts are simply different in important respects when it comes to adopting technology, including information technology. While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations….

“…Federal judges are stewards of a judicial system that has served the Nation effectively for more than two centuries. Like other centuries-old institutions, courts may have practices that seem archaic and inefficient — and some are. But others rest on traditions that embody intangible wisdom. Judges and court executives are understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well until they are satisfied that they are introducing change for the good….

“…The sculptures that adorn the Supreme Court provide a reminder of that resolve… The often overlooked east pediment, installed on the rear portion of the building, features images of historic lawgivers and other symbolic figures. It is flanked by imagery drawn from a well-known fable: A hare on one side sprints in full extension for the finish line, while a tortoise on the other slowly plods along. Perhaps to remind us of which animal won that famous race, Cass Gilbert placed at the bases of the Court’s exterior lampposts sturdy bronze tortoises, symbolizing the judiciary’s commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice.”

Notwithstanding that the Chief Justice articulates that the courts may not move as fast as other institutions and society in general, he clearly declares that change will eventually come, saying

“As technology proceeds apace, we cannot be sure what changes are in store, for the courts or society generally. Innovations will come and go, but the judiciary will continue to make steady progress in employing new technology to provide litigants with fair and efficient access to the courts.”

OK. Some are waiting. But more and more courts are past waiting. ECM and eFiling have in fact become mainstream and of proven reliability. Most courts and their constituents simply cannot afford to eschew their clear advantages. With all due respect to SCOTUS, the courts serve the people; and next race to meet the increasingly complex and pressing societal need for judicial services is well under way. The tortoise never wins the race without pressing deliberately forward.

Seven Classic Arguments Against eFiling And How they’re Holding Up (HINT: Not Well)

This is Part 1 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series.

eFiling became mainstream some time in the past couple of years. Although it is still far from universal, most court observers regard it as inevitable. But things were not always thus. Recently I had cause to reflect on what, back in “The Day”, were the classic arguments/barriers that were so often used to slow or limit the use of eFiling.

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So, for old time’s sake, here’s a quick stroll down Memory Lane with seven of my personal favorites:

  1. It’s not legal.

Well, possibly not, if you don’t do it according to the statutes, administrative orders, special Supreme Court orders, and so on that have been enacted and issued in every state. Otherwise, it may be less permissible to NOT file electronically in the rapidly increasing number of jurisdictions in which eFiling is mandatory.

  1. It’s not safe.

Actually, safety and security are major reasons to move to eFiling. There is simply no way to make manual filing as safe, secure, and auditable as effectively implemented eFiling.

  1. It’s too expensive to buy.

Even though it is possible for courts to procure and implement eFiling at “no out-of budget cost” (or very little), the model in which vendors take a prospective share of the revenue stream in exchange for absorbing the initial costs has become less and less prevalent. That’s mainly because the cost-recovery breakeven for eFiling is so rapid that courts have little incentive to forgo more of the down steam revenue benefits.

  1. It’s too expensive to run.

This objection could be true – if eFiling indefinitely remains “optional”. That’s one of the main reasons almost all jurisdictions have moved or are rapidly moving to “mandatory” eFiling, with provisions for special (and occasional) exceptions that require approval. In all other respects, the business case for eFiling is absolutely, spectacularly, and in many ways stunningly positive. The cost of operation using eFiling is a fraction of the manual processing it replaces.  Moreover, the opportunities to monetize the convenience to filers and downstream users who desire document access present potential revenue sources which the jurisdiction can consider if it so desires.

  1. The staff is too resistant.

Maybe – at the very beginning. With proper advance preparation and training, even the initial trepidation, insecurity, and fear of change can be replaced by excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment. In any event, within the first several months AT MOST, staff in courts that have moved to eFiling almost universally avow that they would never want to go back to manual filing processes. Implementing courts (often to their surprise) observe a marked improvement in staff morale.

  1. The judges are too resistant.

Ah, well — Ten years ago, judicial resistance could be a show-stopper. Five years ago, it could really slow things down. Today — it’s only going to be a show-stopper if the Chief Justice or the Presiding Judge makes stopping it a crusade. To be clear – judicial support is invaluable in assuring smooth, successful implementation. However, today, the forces behind eFiling are just too inexorable.

A judge today who wishes to crusade against eFiling faces serious risk of at best being marginalized; and at worst, being pushed aside.  As the generational turnover continues and accelerates, the more common situation is that the judges are pushing for eFiling.

Finally, the vast majority of judges who’s courts have done it have become supporters and are willing to tell that to their skeptical colleagues.

  1. The attorneys are too resistant.

Au contraire. The bar wants eFiling; and it wants it yesterday. While they’d rather have it for free, if the choice is to pay or to not have it, they’ll pay.

Ironically, the classic arguments against eFiling have turned out to be the strongest business reasons for implementing it: Lower cost, greater security, improved staff and judicial moral, better relations with the bar, and so on. A number of less-often cited arguments have fared as, if not more, poorly. Anyone using these arguments today really should do some homework. It’s a new world.

Coming up next: Blog 2 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – ECF Standards

The Information Tsunami

iStock_000000789360SmallThe Trend –

Access to specialized knowledge, information and expertise is heading toward ubiquity.

The Internet, with intelligent search capability, renders virtually every fact, document, video and most other data available to everyone, with just the use of a simple query. Increased processing power is bringing “expert systems” closer to “artificial intelligence.”

There are at least three major aspects to this trend.

  1. The amount of data and information available increases at a rate exceeding that of Moore’s Law: doubling of information available through the Internet is measured in weeks; not years. There is a limit: Every piece of information on earth. That limit, by straightforward extrapolation, will be hit within the next century — probably sooner.
  2. The ability to access and retrieve information is moving closer to people’s bodies. So today, the smartphone, which most people carry everywhere, provides the capability to retrieve any piece of information from virtually anywhere at any time. Google Glass and other “wearable” user interfaces are already becoming mainstream. Implants have already started. Absent some major change in human behavior, expect all the current capabilities of today’s smartphones (complete with apps) to be carried internally within the next couple of years, if not sooner.
  3. The development of artificial intelligence to power expert systems, coupled with the cornucopia of available data, is enabling non-professionals to undertake activities formerly requiring highly trained professionals. IBM’s Watson is an excellent example, providing diagnostic services previously requiring one or more M.D.s, often specialists. Legal and judicial systems are next.

Implications

While the implications of this trend are limitless, here are a few that I think will pertain to courts regarding Electronic Content Management (ECM).

  1. The connection between “content” and its form will largely disappear.

The concept of a “document” will have an entirely different meaning than the one associated with a paper-centric world.

With a few exceptions, migration to electronic content more often means that how the content is rendered (displayed) is largely a function of the interface used. For example, documents are displayed one way on a full-size monitor, another way on a tablet and yet a third way on a smartphone. Soon to come are the watch rendering, the wearable (Google Glass) rendering and even the back-of-your-eyelids rendering.

  1. Practically All Content Will Be Electronically Stored – Forever.

Already, the debate has shifted from “When should courts destroy their records” to “Given that under no circumstances will society permit court records to ever be destroyed, who should have the right to try to restrict access to old records; and what should that access be?”

  1. Power Relationships Will Change.

Certainly these systems will have a professional impact within the courts. Moreover, consider how forms, self-help systems and guide books have empowered pro-se litigants over the past 20 years. Expert systems, available on demand, will be much more disruptive to the current court and legal system model.

  1. Standardization Will Increase

Because expert systems are utterly dependent on both standards and data, laws, rules and procedures will be required that assure the availability of both. Furthermore, because there will be a desire for the systems to ultimately work across jurisdictional boundaries, pressures to develop and maintain robust workflow and content standards and management across all boundaries will increase. The result will be a level of standardization beyond anything existing today, both within the court and across the justice system.

 

Still Want Those Printers? Ask Benjamin the Donkey

“Benjamin the donkey… would say … that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would rather have no tail and no flies.”

From Animal Farm, by George Orwell

A friend complained to me about the succession of problems with her printer. It was when she started telling me how important her printer was to her that I began to reflect on the insightful, if cynical, observation by Orwell’s donkey. Who knew he was a systems analyst?

When dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a young systems analyst, courts were just learning that unless printers were made readily available, users simply would not use them as intended. Eventually, courts figured out that if people had the choice of electronically creating their output, followed by having to leave their desks to go to a printer down the hall to retrieve it, they’d simply write it out or type it instead. Thus court management (reluctantly, in view of the price) purchased and installed a lot more printers because of the strategic importance of getting everyone to maximize use of the systems.

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Now, every tech support person knows that printers, however necessary, are the Devil’s work. Trouble tickets regarding printers are probably more frequent and more frustrating than just about any other kind. But, thank heavens everyone has those printers.

Because they need those printers for… for… Well, yes, there are some things they need the printers for; but they sure aren’t the same things they needed them for 20, ten, or even five years ago. The fact is that managing content electronically changes both the tactical and strategic importance of printers. Courts should give some attention to both.

Tactically, it’s almost like Benjamin gets his wish for no more flies. Or at least a lot fewer of them. Thus, every printer acquisition and placement should be made in view of the need to print in a court with fully implemented Electronic Content Management (ECM). Analysis will probably show need for fewer, less powerful (at least locally), and less expensive printers. Acquisition and maintenance cost of printers should be expected to drop.

Strategically, the objective should be to have the minimum possible distribution of printers. Simply stated, minimizing the amount of paper documents goes a long way toward maximizing the effectiveness of ECM. In instances where printing a document may appear to be a better, faster, easier or more efficient, the court should stop and more carefully analyze the situation.

Pete Kiefer, of Maricopa County Superior Court and leader of NACM’s Court Futures project, reminds me that that in cases such as this, application of The Five Why’s would be in order: Asking iterative questions to get to the root reason(s) for the perceived situation. For a first iteration I suggest, “What causes printing a document to seem a better solution in this case?” Almost always, upon consideration of all factors, printing paper documents turns out more expensive, less efficient and disruptive to the overall process.

Whether, in the face of a 95% plus drop in the fly population, Benjamin (curmudgeonly cuss that he was) would actually have had his tail bobbed, one will never know. If he resisted for fashion reasons, absent other consequences he could be given a pass. But if it markedly impacted his personal hygiene, bring on the clippers. Likewise, if the only consideration with where and how to use printers were people’s comfort with paper, so be it. But, really, the stakes are much more strategic.

 

 

 

 

 

The Back End of eFiling

Make no mistake: I have been an avid proponent of eFiling for decades. In fact, my enthusiasm for eFiling and mandatory eFiling at that, predated eFiling’s actual readiness for prime time by more than a few years. It would be a total mistake to take anything I say here as a criticism of eFiling.

With given that disclaimer, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the strongest they can and will cut you. If you are surrounded by sharp knives, you have little choice but to learn and practice that care and respect.

eFiling has taken off in a big way. To the public, or anyone outside the court, it looks bright, shiny, modern and efficient. Some courts, however, may be feeling surrounded.

90_Back EndI’m reminded of the Post Office scene from Men In Black II. In the back room, all the spiffy office equipment is humming along neatly in an apparently total automated system. Then all the panels fall from all the equipment, and inside it’s being run manually by a legion of inter-galactic worker bees.

The discussion regarding eFiling has evolved considerably over the past several years. As recently as five years ago, or even a little less, a couple of the serious questions were 1) Should eFiling be mandatory as soon as possible after implementation; and 2) Should it precede, be concurrent with, or follow implementation of ECM with workflow in the court?

Today, question one has been pretty resoundingly answered by everyone who has walked the road: It has to be mandatory. Until it is, the court is in for pain, expense, and a lot of extra work.

Question two is trickier. Just about everyone knows that having Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow precede or be concurrent with eFiling is optimum. Nevertheless, real world pressures are resulting in an uneven landscape. There’s a real benefit to mandating eFiling at a State or Judicial District level. Unfortunately, not all the courts may have a good way to connect the bright, shiny, eFiled electronic documents to their internal procedures and back-end systems.

Such courts have to deal with the non-optimum solution. Electronically received documents may be printed out; workflow will continue to be physical paper and file-centric, and manual data entry may be required to populate the back-end Case Management and other court systems. Many, many worker bees are working behind the scenes. Plus, they have to deal with their old systems, for which they barely had enough time anyway, and the NEW system makes additional demands on the court’s limited resources.

Courts caught in or facing this conundrum should seriously consider implementing an intermediate system to handle incoming eFiled documents. A web service interface coupled with ECM with workflow can accomplish a number of things.

  • Route for clerk review
  • Automate data entry to the CMS
  • Route for judge signature
  • Provide automated redaction of public-facing documents
  • Automatically publish to the court, city, county or other appropriate website for public view
  • Provide high-level visibility into the process and metrics on document data.

Five years ago, meaningful discussions considered whether eFiling was worthwhile. Today, that verdict is in: From a public and a legal system perspective, it’s a necessity. Furthermore, it has to be made universal and mandatory as soon as possible after implementation.

The second verdict, even if it hasn’t been announced, is already in the envelope. Once a court starts receiving eFiled documents, it’s going to have to connect them to its back-end systems and processes, and it will need to implement ECM with workflow. The longer it waits, the more pain, confusion and expense it will have to endure.