e-Courts 2016 Quick Review

e-Courts 2016 is “in the books”, as they say. My understanding is that video of the sessions is or will soon be available online. Check the e-Courts 2016 website for information. I strongly suggest viewing those sessions in which you have an interest when they become available.

120_conferenceStarting with Gary Marchant’s Keynote, attendees confronted the evidence that technological changes in society at large have started to overwhelm the justice system; and courts, by and large, are not prepared for it. From body camera data to genetic data to virtual reality evidence, Marchant described how new technologies are overwhelming the ability of governing institutions – including the Justice System – to cope within existing customs, laws, ethical guidelines, rules, processes, and economic models. While much of government may simply refuse to act – pass laws, promulgate regulations, etc. – courts have no choice. They are confronted with the dilemmas created; but have little to no relevant guidance from either the statutory/regulatory framework or prior experience.

Moreover, the shear size of the quantity, and variety of incoming data has begun to overwhelm the infrastructure. For example, how to handle the exploding increase in body-camera data? Not only is the amount huge; but the formats are not standardized; the courts do not have the capability to display all formats, and efforts to convert to “standard” formats constitute alteration of evidence. The need for the technology to manage the technology is manifest.

Meanwhile, as Tom Clarke, Vice President of Research & Technology, pointed out, surveys starkly reveal that the public regards the courts as extremely out of step with what are considered the minimal standards of technological competence for today’s world. In what was possibly the most memorable line of the conference, Clarke described the public’s attitude toward court technological prowess as “Bringing the public yesterday’s technology tomorrow”.

Pretty rough stuff. Still, I thought e-Courts 2016 was far and away the most HOPEFUL court technology conference I’ve ever attended. What to me was most striking was not the fact that speakers were talking about the judicial system being left in the dust. It was that most people were staying to hear it, and ask “So, where do we go from here?”

The very first session, Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change, observed that courts have moved from a place where a very few are willing to embrace newer technologies to the place where very few are still actively resisting. The session provide insights on how court managers and technologists can affirmatively advance their courts’ ability and willingness to adopt a culture that thrives on constant change.

The Courthack sessions were extremely well received – something I question would have been the case five or ten years ago. Very bright, very energetic youngsters come together to conceive of, design, and build “outside the box” (potentially disruptive of current practices and procedures) applications intended to improve the court customer experience and court product quality.

The JTC – Improving the Administration of Justice Through Technology session laid out the current major initiatives of the Joint Technology Committee – a collaborative effort of COSCA, NACM, and NCSC – to provide practical assistance for dealing with technology change . These include technology standards development, process improvement, technology training for court leaders, and dialog within and among the justice community on technology matters.

Courts disrupted (which Tom Clarke hastened to point out was way too big a topic for a single session) identified some major disconnects in the way courts may perceive their business and what their business really is. For example, the actual mix of case types varies dramatically from what courts are designed to handle. Just one example: cases involving lawyers constitute a small fraction of the total case load.

Fittingly, Good Public Policy for Innovation: Open vs. Closed Ecosystem concluded the conference. I will have more to say on this topic later. The very practical question, in facing the upheavals and the technology choices, is whether to integrate “Best of Breed” components on the one hand (“Open” ecosystem); or to build or acquire a single system that does everything (“Closed” ecosystem). The panelists did a very nice job of identifying the issues involved, the relative advantages and disadvantages.

Again, I strongly encourage you to check the e-Courts website and view some, or all the sessions. And I look forward to future conferences, white papers, and educational opportunities that build on the material presented at this conference to provide practical assistance to court leaders in the facing today’s profound changes.

 

About Those Grandkids

When Willamette University College of Law opened it’s newly constructed wing, Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (at that time, an active Justice) gave the dedication speech. Given the critical issues then before the Court, everyone listened with rapt attention as Justice Conner began her remarks with the following line:

“I want to speak to you today about the subject of the most profound importance to me… ” She let the crowd hang a pregnant moment, before continuing, “My granddaughter.”

I am again reminded of that fabulous line, because of the way in which I have become aware that a major generational break through has occurred regarding electronic Justice Information Technology.  Finally, a method has been discovered to bring youth-challenged boomers, including judges and senior managers, into the twenty-first century. Yes, finally, senior professionals with mid-twentieth century birthdays are embracing, adopting, and willingly relying on cutting-edge information technology.

This development should be extremely gratifying after so many years of such ardent, energetic, often expensive, and usually frustrating attempts by those of us in the profession of moving enterprises like courts and related justice system agencies to adopt and leverage new electronic information management tools. Yes; it’s taken awhile; but we did it.

Ah, well; not exactly…. Turns out we really didn’t do it at all.

The credit goes to the grandkids. They’re the ones who the grey-of-hair set are chasing into the technological promised land. Grandma and Grandpa now practically live and breathe social media and instant communication. I just took part in a teleconference through Skyping. Our Board chair, a couple years my senior, was fully conversant with Skyping – he does it all the time with the grandkids.

110_grandkids

Five years ago, I was still hearing senior judges proudly assert that they had no “Smart Phone”. Now, the thought of being off the text-message or Twitter grid for longer than five minutes seems to them unimaginable.

Well, ok. So all we really had to do was wait around for the next generation to spawn instead of bashing our collective heads against brick walls so much of the time. However, the moment having finally arrived, it’s worthwhile to consider how changing habits open opportunities for changing the landscape.

A judge who Skypes and texts with a grandchild is unlikely to be emotionally unable to consider eSigning. There may be questions – there SHOULD be questions – but the underlying, never-spoken but always present visceral resistance – has largely receded. It may be time for a new round of educational and informational outreach to the hitherto more resistant demographic in the justice system community.

Frankly, some results are already starting to show. Judicial “workbench” tools are becoming much more user friendly, intuitive, and powerful. Granted, technological power and sophistication, per Moore’s Law, plays a big role. Likewise, changing demographics as generations that grew up with computers and the internet begin to fill the judicial ranks has  marked effect. Indeed, while many technology strategies have long been to (secretly) plan to “outwait” the oldsters, the newest and most powerful judicial support tools are based on direct input from the most senior judges with the most institutional knowledge to pass along.

In some ways, The Great Recession accelerated development and adoption of Judicial Information Systems, because of the imperative to do more with less in an environment of falling budgets and increased demands for services. On the other hand, the same financial pressures, often coupled with generational reluctance to change, acted as a brake on progress.

When budgets began to recover, the combination of pent-up demand and improved technology kicked off what has been a historically unprecedented period of transition to electronic Justice Information Systems.

Now I think we can add that, against many expectations (mine, anyway), even the pre-computer generation is coming around. This factor adds one more not insignificant push on the rapidly accelerating adoption and penetration rate of ever more sophisticated electronic Justice Information Systems. Perhaps even better, the wisdom and institutional memory of some of our very talented and experienced senior judicial minds is being preserved and embedded into the systems of the future.

Justice O’Connor was right.