Change and Continuity


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Given the eclectic mix of disciplines and emphases involved, including  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), sociology, history, psychology, ergonomics, and art, to name a few, architects quite naturally have an almost unique perspective on the subject of Change and Continuity. And that perspective turns out to be highly relevant to the theme of this December’s e-Courts 2016 Conference; namely, how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor.

Recently, I had the opportunity at a party to chat with a young graduate student studying to become an architect. My young friend has no formal legal training; but does have a solid undergraduate background in architecture, in addition to his current graduate studies. I mentioned a piece I wrote a couple years ago  about the interest of architects in how to design for the courthouses of the future.

As it happens, my young friend himself has an interest in and has done some work regarding the architecture of courthouses. He shared with me that he had recently authored a paper in which he presented a pretty harsh critique of one of the relatively new (within the past ten years) courthouses nearby. I asked him, in layman’s terms, what he saw as the problem.  His response, I believe, highlights an important principle that those of us involved with court technology should – but do not always – keep clearly in mind.

The shortcomings, he said, were not at all functional. As an office building, the courthouse was fine. The problem, he said, was that it was really just that: An office building. It could have housed any office-centric business. To an observer who had no idea what the building was, there was nothing to indicate, internally or externally in its architecture, that it was a courthouse.

That comment surprised me more than a little bit. Not because I disagreed with it (I know that courthouse); but because he, as an architect, thought it important.

I generally have to “tone down” my evangelical impulses to try to explain what I see as the fundamental power of the concept of an independent, robust judicial system. When I can’t contain those impulses, I at best bore, and more often probably irritate people by pointing out that there are really, really good reasons why judges typically sit higher than everyone else; why everyone rises when the judge enters; why only those “admitted” or with permission may “pass the bar”, and so on. But I went through the Law School Indoctrination; I don’t usually encounter non-lawyers or non-court folks who really give those things much thought.

Well, it turns out architects (at least some of them, including my friend) understand that the design and architecture of a courthouse has an importance beyond basic functionality. There is an importance in having people feel, however subliminally, that the courthouse is an institution of justice, solemnity, fairness, and truth, critical to the well-being of a free society.

I hope we folks who bring and work with technology in the courts make it a point to keep these values in mind. I think of the number of times that I have dealt with, discussed, or done business with technology providers who, however experienced in their own domains, have little or no experience in working with courts. At first, THEY JUST DON’T GET IT. But there it is: Courts ARE different.

As I participate in “Futures” discussions and planning, I find one exercise particularly worthwhile in this regard. Futures planning naturally attempts to predict what will change. But it helps to also identify what WILL NOT change. In the future there may be hover cars and controllable weather; but couples will still meet, fall in love, and try to live happily ever after. Teenagers may communicate with their friends through electronic tattoos; but they’ll still be terminally embarrassed by their parents.

All information may some day be digital; all communication may be wireless and instantaneous. But there will still be need for a strong judicial system; and the technology we bring must support that institution.







The Art and Folly of Prediction

Go to any court conference these days and you’ll find that a main topic, if not THE main topic, is “change.” In my previous post, I discussed my sense that the rate of change occurring in the courts surpasses almost all current expectations. A part of me hopes I’m wrong. However, I’m keeping that part of me well away from my wallet.

What this means to making predictions about the future of the courts is that it’s far less likely to be anywhere near as correct as predictions from 1960 could have been for the year 2015. Historically, virtually all attempts to predict the futunwo xanderre err on the side of being way too conservative. In 1960, no one was predicting most of the things that define our world today, such as instant world-wide communications; immediate access to virtually all facts, written information and other forms of content; and the ability to store, access, and interpret all that information, just to name a few.

Nevertheless, there are some extremely valid reasons for looking toward the future and making predictions. That plans will have to change and adapt is no reason not to have plans. Indeed, the reverse is true: the more that change is inevitable and unpredictable, the more important it is to put significant effort into making the best predictions possible and making plans for dealing with them.

Therefore, in a demonstration of my complete fearlessness of being completely wrong in public, in my next few blogs, I plan to offer predictions of what may lie on the path ahead for the courts. With each will come some thoughts as to the role and effect Electronic Content Management might have should such changes come to pass.

Here are a few ground rules for long-range prediction.

  • Choose what is meant by “long range.” Is it five years? Fifty years? In the nineties, 25-30 years was standard for long-range planning. Moore’s Law suggests that technology alone will advance through 15 doublings, which is a factor of over 30,000 times what it is today, in 30 years.
  • Be aggressively original. You’ll still end up being too conservative.
  • Try not to bet the farm.
  • Be strategic. A classic organizational strategic map includes not only the enterprise, but suppliers, customers, competition, distributors, market, regulators and business environment. So, what changes will be affecting courts’ suppliers, such as the Bar, Law Enforcement, etc.? How about its customers, including what kind and their demographics?
  • Identify what is highly UNLIKELY to change. Death and taxes are good bets, and both have implications for court futures planning. There are others.
  • Eschew wishful thinking. Note that this rule does NOT mean to be pessimistic. It DOES mean to avoid assuming that things the courts hold dear – a public desire for impartial resolution of disputes or guaranteed respect for judges, for example, will endure like the Law of Gravity.
  • Really look at trends. DO NOT assume they are fads that will slowly abate. Rather, assume they will accelerate.
  • Assume that everything will scale to infinity. How much information storage space will a court need? How long will court information have to be kept? How secure does court information have to be (in all dimensions)?

Applying these principles, the next several posts will identify what I believe are “megatrends” that will affect the courts well into the future and beyond. Each one has implications across many dimensions.

So off we go – perhaps over the deep end; but hey, it ought to be fun. The trend to be examined in the next post is

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

Stay tuned.