Building from the Ground Up

By Jeffrey N. Barlow

I am currently reading the biography of Steve Jobs. Without drawing too close an analogy, Jobs’s intense focus on the “user experience,” and how to make it “insanely great” should resonate with the Justice community as it seeks tools to automate the planning, delivery, and archiving of services. The story of the iPod provides an excellent illustration of the point.128_ipod evolution

Generally, the thinking, both inside and outside the company, was that Apple was a technology company that, among other things, marketed technical devices. And, of course, it was. Pre-iPod, many technology companies made devices for people to use to listen to music.

Other companies produced music, which was distributed on various media. There probably never was a plot to change the media just as my record/tape/CD collection started filling out; but it sure seemed like it.

Some companies, like Sony, actually produced both the content and the devices. But, while it may have seemed like that created an “integrated experience,” that turned out not to be the case at all. (And therein lies its own cautionary tale: the fact that the system components have the same label does not necessarily guarantee particularly elegant integration at the functional level.) At Sony, there was the technical (hardware) side, and the recording (artists) side. As it turned out, the twain was rarely meeting.

Steve Jobs loved to listen to music. Being who he was, he figured out what that meant. And it meant a lot more than putting a record on a turntable, or a cassette in a tape deck, or a CD in a player.

As I read about this adventure, having lived through the previous eras of music consumption, I find myself struck by the fact that I have seen this story unfold in another realm; indeed the realm with which this blog deals: Justice System Information and Records Management. In this regard, the modern, integrated  judicial automated tool sets provide an excellent illustration.

 Read more about an integrated judicial tool for the bench.

In no way should these observations be construed as a criticism of those (of whom I am one) who developed court and justice community information management systems. The fact is, the seminal court information systems were developed by technologists for strictly back-room use by data entry clerks using the tools available at the time. Elegance was, to say the least, not a consideration. Nor was much in the way of integration, except for the passing of large, cumulative reports.

As you will be hearing in this space from Brad Smith, Senior Justice Systems Consultant for ImageSoft, the new systems are largely driven from the top down by judges; not from the bottom up by technologists. As a result, today judges (as well as all the staff and business partners) have available to them tools that can seamlessly and elegantly bring together the many information streams and process enabling technologies required to provide an outstanding “user experience.”

Not surprisingly, the key change moment was when judges themselves took control of the design process. (I recommend taking a look at Judge Lee E. Haworth’s video on the development of the Manatee County, Florida judicial bench application.) As with the Apple experience, when people whose business is providing justice services are at the forefront of the design of systems to provide justice services, those systems turn out to be a lot more than just technology. They actually turn out to be cool.

For better or for worse, the justice system constitutes a relatively small market compared to, say, defense or accounting or agriculture. Partially for that reason, a lot of justice system IT had its origins in other, completely different business domains. As the Apple experience shows, those who take the time to work from the ground up with the people and institutions intimately involved in the target enterprise, in this case, justice, are capable of providing tighter, more elegant, and more powerful systems in the end.

Which court system do you think could benefit from a ground-up redesign?

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.


Countdown to e-Courts 2016

I’m looking forward to e-Courts 2016 in a couple of weeks; and not just because it’s in Las Vegas and likely to be sunnier and warmer than the December cold and gray at home. e-Courts and CTC conferences stand well on their own in that they are rich in information, networking and exposure to the latest technological innovations. The e-Courts experience, being court-centric, “lessons learned” as well as future planning makes it all that more relevant.

Beyond all that, for those of us fortunate enough to have attended a number of these conferences over the years, the cumulative “arc”, if you will, of the conferences provides an interesting view of where court technology has been and where it is headed. Each conference has its own special vibe or theme (sometimes more than one); and while there are definite similarities from conference to conference, the differences reflect the advances in the technology and their effects on courts.

118_e-courtsA glance at this year’s agenda provides immediate insight into this year’s theme. All past conferences, of course, have dealt with changing technology. This year, from Gary Marchant’s Keynote Address  through sessions with titles like Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change and Courts Disrupted, the pattern seems to be identifying and describing not only the technologies, but also discussing how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor. Because, while each new technology in of itself engenders change, the cumulative effect of the myriad of technological, societal, environmental, medical, pedagogical and other tsunami-like changes are altering the very face of the justice system.

One area I hope gets some discussion at and following the conference (while not necessarily under this label) is Complexity Theory. (Several years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog on Complexity Theory, also known as Chaos Theory. The editors mercifully elected not to publish it.) The particular point I made in that piece that should be considered is determining whether, in a very dynamic (that is, rapidly changing) environment, organizations can maneuver more effectively with one large, tightly integrated system, or with multiple smaller, integrated but interchangeable systems. In a broad sense, the answer, of course, is “It Depends.”

I hope there is some discussion of what it depends upon. For one thing, it depends on where the court is coming from. If the court has a tightly integrated system that handles CMS, DMS, work flow, judge’s work bench, public access, web portal, and so on, no doubt there will be real advantages with staying with that model. If, on the other hand, each (or at least many) different functions are handled by separate systems, the answer may be very different. In cases where there is NO current system for certain functions, like Content Management, Workflow, Judges’ Workbench, it’s a serious question whether to try to expand an existing system like a CMS or go with a Best of Breed system that can be elegantly integrated with the existing systems.

The Complexity, or Chaos Theory reference pertains to a characteristic with which we are all familiar but rarely articulate, and for which there is some truly incomprehensible math. Since I am not real sharp with math, here’s an example: If you want to pave an area, are you better off paving it as one section, or as a bunch of smaller sections fitted together (like squares in a sidewalk)? Or, should you have one large single-pane window, or a set of smaller window panes that together form a large viewing area?

While the single area may be easier overall to put in, there are a couple drawbacks. One is that you must be able to do it all at once. Another is that one crack, anywhere, destroys the integrity of the whole thing. Thus, when there is the prospect of variability (like heat changes winter to summer) or instability (like ground tremors) that can damage the window, builders go with the smaller, sectioned design.

I think there’s a real analogy here to the situation courts find themselves in as the gale winds of change blow over them. The Pyramids could withstand a lot of weather. But even they were made of individual building blocks. Yes, we’re all finding new functions we want to migrate onto electronic platforms. everyone should carefully consider not just what works best; but what model will best withstand the certainty of future uncertainty.

Bippity Boppity Boo – ECM, Workflow, and Magic

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable for magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

Walt Disney was a man way ahead of his time. Yes, long before anyone coined the term, ole’ Walt managed to embed a major plug for advanced Electronic Content Management with configurable workflow into his 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty. This feat was remarkable, even for Disney, considering that it would be decades before ECM would be invented.

Don’t just take my word for it; go watch the movie. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t use the terms “ECM”, “configurable”, or “workflow”. No, futurist that he was, Walt cleverly used code words and allegorical situations. But, when you see the scenes in which the Fairy Godmothers try to manage their “household” WITHOUT workflow (they use the code-word “magic” instead; but, clearly, it’s configurable workflow), things are a hot mess. Once they return to using workflow – ok; call it “magic” if you insist – everything settles right in and works like, ahem, a charm.

Yes, the dishes put themselves away. The cake not only puts itself together, but it’s quality is without compare. That doesn’t mean the ladies don’t create the cake. They decide what the result should be and fashion a masterpiece. But there’s no muss, no fuss, and absolutely no wasted effort, duplication, errors, or sloppy work. Materials, ingredients, pots and pans, utensils – all arrive just when needed, then clean themselves and put themselves away.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a practically perfect illustration of the power of ECM with workflow. For those who have implemented it, the thought of doing without it, however briefly, is no less terrifying than the thought of cooking and cleaning without magic was to the Fairy Godmothers. For those who have not implemented it, the purported benefits sound like, well, magic.

Consider: Not only did the cake get baked; but all the ancillary prep work and cleanup were automatically executed as fully integrated functions. Suppose holding a court hearing operated the same way. No gathering documents and files; that’s done. No arranging the materials for the judge; that’s done, too. The judge can hold the hearing, the output (order, hearing, warrant, whatever) can be generated with a flick of the wand — uh, or the proper command issued by the proper person (there’s a difference between this and magic?).

Afterwards, the files and documents can hie themselves to their proper next places, be it “storage” or the next step in the process; notices can generate themselves, and so on. Moreover, for those who like to keep track of what’s been done (that is, every court manager who ever lived) all the proper recordings of what has been done, who was involved, and so on will be made without even asking. Want the answer to  any type of statistical or historical question? Just ask.

Walt even foresaw one of the less obvious considerations with using magic; at least, less obvious until the first time you get burned. That is, the need for security. Fortunately for today’s courts, they’re not the first ones to try using magic in the heart of the woods with Maleficent on the prowl. Today’s systems come with robust security; and staff awareness and training are among the highest priorities of professional court managers. Courts have gotten very good about keeping their windows and chimneys shut, so to speak.

And then, there’s the final scene. As the Princess and The Prince dance into Happily Ever After, the Fairy Godmothers each change the color of the Princess’s gown to conform to their different fashion tastes. What a concept: Configurable display, to suit the needs, wants, and preferences of each particular user. Guess what? Your wish is granted.

Bippity Boppity Boo.

Cloud Gazing

A couple years ago I wrote about how I thought attitudes concerning storing critical enterprise data in “The Cloud” would have evolved five years hence. Bottom line: The prediction was that by 2019, best practices will require that information of any criticality, confidentiality, or sensitivity be stored in The Cloud, because that will be far and away the most safe and manageable place for it.

Thus at the Justice Summit in Grand Rapids this June it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear Scott Bade, President of ImageSoft, who noted that the new generation of Justice System Information Management Systems are being designed for Cloud storage, for exactly those reasons. To a room of generally skeptical judges, court managers, and court technologists, Scott acknowledged the current general negative impressions regarding the security of data in The Cloud. Confronting their skepticism head-on, he then predicted that they would soon come to understand that the very reason for moving their most sensitive data to The Cloud is that it is no longer safe anywhere else.

As Scott pointed out, courts and other justice agencies can and will continue to store data “on-site” (wherever THAT is) for as long as they wish. The larger point is that, because Cloud storage will almost certainly become the rule rather than the exception, the new Justice System Information Systems are being designed to take advantage of the opportunities such architectures provide. And those opportunities are exciting indeed, offering greater functionality and flexibility, lower total cost of ownership, and far greater management control to far finer levels of granularity (like individual litigants on their own cases).

The Justice Community doesn’t need to lead the way.  Granted, justice system information includes highly sensitive and confidential material. But so, then, do National Security information systems. And here, the Defense Department has been moving aggressively to transition to storing information in The Cloud.

For those who are interested (ATTENTION, GEEKS!), Department of Defense Cloud Computing Security Requirements Guide, Version 1, Release 2, 18 March, 2016 makes fascinatingly turgid reading. For the rest of us, the mere existence of such a document should send a powerful message. Meet some folks who are seriously interested in security, who are spelling out in excruciating detail how to store and access its most sensitive information (designated “Level 6”, for anyone who wants to know).

Just for fun, here is a chart from the Guide. Imagine how easily it could be applied to Justice System Information.

From Section 3.2, Information Impact Levels

Figure 1 provides a summary of the current information impact levels coupled with some of the distinguishing requirements and characteristics. 


Note that per Section 5.2.1, the information must be physically located in the US or an area under US jurisdiction (like, say , Guantanamo). Not unreasonable; and courts may very well apply in-state restrictions if they please.

All of this is to say to the justice community that 1) Cloud-based information storage is in your future, probably sooner than you expect; 2) Properly implemented, it will be far more secure than any other form of storage; and 3) The tools that bring it to you bring also some very, very exciting capabilities to improve justice community delivery of services.



One of the interesting factoids about progress is that in the nineteenth century, ninety-seven percent of the population was engaged in producing and distributing food for everybody.  By the mid-twentieth century, the figure was down around three percent.  Note that the population during that time had more than quadrupled.   However you look at it, an enormous amount of resources have been re-directed from the basic task of feeding the population.

There are many ways to look at and value (or decry) this phenomenon.  Here is one:  Those resources have been freed up for other things, including space exploration, medical advances, increased education, individual family housing, more flavors of ice cream, and on and on.  Granted, the world today faces serious challenges.  Nevertheless, it is indisputable that overall quality of life and standard of living have improved during that time across the board.  And, we don’t have ninety-seven percent of the population as unemployed farmers.

I make this observation as I consider today’s courts and related justice systems as they move toward transformation from physical documents and manual record management to Electronic Content Management (ECM) and a paper-on-demand court model.

Historically, a huge proportion of court resources have been dedicated to document and record management.   There have always been many more record clerks than judges in most courts.  Skill requirements included document processing, file creation and assembly, file storage, file retrieval, file transportation, copying, file security, etc.

As courts move forward, they are finding less and less need for those basic, manual skill sets.  More and more, ECM systems free up the resources to undertake higher-order tasks such as direct judicial support, customer service and specialty court functions.  As time goes by, this trend will only accelerate.

None of this is to say that the path is either straightforward or easy. Generally speaking, when courts make the transformation from paper documents to ECM, they must initially do so largely within the context of existing resources and infrastructure.  That means that the courthouses, offices and often related justice agencies, are usually designed and located with physical document management in mind.   A significant number, if not a majority, of the support staff are primarily trained and experienced in dealing with and managing paper documents and files.   While internal processes can often be adjusted as part of the implementation, in many cases inter-agency or customer-facing processes must remain or at least “imitate” the old, paper-centric processes.

Following initial implementation, however, these “legacy” resources and infrastructure will, over time, give way to resources that are positioned to fully utilize the capabilities of the new systems.  Staff previously trained in processing of paper documents and files will be re-trained and re-assigned.  Work spaces and physical plant will be re-located and re-furnished; and eventually, as new facilities are built, they will be appropriately designed without the encumbrances of the old systems.  Newly recruited staff will bring skill sets directed toward the higher-order activities.

As any veteran of paradigm-changing technology implementations knows, the down-stream adjustment is neither straightforward nor easy.  As much as it seems that once the seriously challenging effort to implement a new system is completed the organization should be able to sit back and coast, that just isn’t the way life works.

So, for those who expected all rainbows and lollipops, sorry to disillusion you.  But I don’t bring this point up just to be a “Debbie Downer”.    The point is that it is really easy to get caught up in the intensity and immediacy of implementation and be sorely tempted to use whatever workarounds are expedient, without considering the longer-range world into which you are moving.   When planning for and working through initial implementation, time and effort taken to look beyond the immediate “sturm und drang” to plan for the future, when the relics of the old paradigm have finally been replaced will pay big dividends.

Once this process has run its course, the level of service provided by the courts and wider justice system will be considerably greater than anything possible in the old, paper-centric world.   Future generations will be astounded when they stumble across figures showing the percentage of resources courts used to devote to document management in “the old days”.



Gazing Into the Crystal Ball, Part Three: Waving Goodbye to Documents


In a recent post I set forth some predictions of the longer-term consequences of moving to paper on demand, I posted that in the future, “Courts will handle only a small fraction of the number of documents they do today.” Here’s why.

The first stage of implementing a paper-on-demand justice system involves the very profound shift from processes that rely on physical documents and files to processes that utilize electronic documents. Not surprisingly, during the first phases, a significant portion of effort involves trying to make the electronic documents useful within the context of their predecessors, paper documents. (Yes, people tend to cling to the old ways. To quote Jefferson (out of context), “…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”)

Of necessity, this transformation takes time. Eventually, as fingers loosen on the tightly held habits of the past, previously unseen factors begin to emerge. One of the earliest, and now well accepted, was that robust, configurable workflow capabilities are essential to making Enterprise Content Management (ECM) effective.

What ECM with configurable workflow increasingly demonstrates is that in many, if not most, cases “documents” are merely containers for information. Consider, for example, a typical Motion and Order for Continuance. Once upon a time the Motion document fulfilled the essential function of carrying the request to the Court, and the Order document provided a place for the judge (or other acting official) to memorialize approval. Today, neither document is necessary or desirable, as more effective, easy to use and safe mechanisms exist for accomplishing both objectives. Moreover, when a document (even an electronic document) is used, it has to be managed. And even if that management is done electronically, it creates overhead.

Think of making an online application for something that will require approval — say, a credit card or a loan; or, in my case. Medicare. The information (data) elements are critical to the process. There must be trustworthy authentication of the applicant’s identity. And, of course, the applicant must be bound by his or her assertions. But no one argues there has to be a document to accomplish any of these. Using some form of identifying security (today, email address and password are common, but more robust mechanisms exist), the applicant enters the information, acknowledges the terms under which the application is made and submits it.

Even with no document, the applicant should, at any time, be able to access the application information and see the status of the request.
In exactly the same manner, the “Order”, or approval/denial, has the requirements of containing the necessary information. If the decision/authority emanates from a particular person, that person must be held to have made the order. Again, absolutely no document is required.

While I could make similar arguments concerning more substantial, as opposed to ministerial/procedural, documents — things like pleadings, judgments and so forth — there is no need. Just the volume of ministerial/procedural documents in courts is so heavy that their elimination or substantial reduction will constitute a major change (for the better) in court operations. After they are gone, we’ll see about those that remain.

In this evolution, configurable workflow is THE key ingredient. The ability to move information based on rules, integrating the ECM system with Case Management system for courts, or Inmate Tracking System for jails, and so on, is the capability that can make many processes independent of documents altogether. Without it, some form of documents will still be necessary to provide conduits and containers for the information, albeit at a significantly greater cost.

How eFiling Improves Access to Justice

trickle-down econmics

A lot of attention gets (quite properly) focused on “Access to Justice”, and the various barriers – physical, social, economic, cultural, and so on – that inhibit people’s ability to appropriately use the justice system. Of these, one major barrier has always been cost—particularly, the cost of quality legal representation.

“Everyone knows” that e-filing can save courts a lot of money (well, maybe not everyone ; but the business case has been pretty clearly proven); and that’s a real incentive to the taxpayers.

Likewise, it’s no mystery that most attorneys avidly support implementation of e-filing, for their own valid business reasons. Indeed, the legal community generally is willing to pay for e-filing in the form of surcharges and/or nominally higher filing fees, because the convenience is so much greater and the total expense of delivery of documents to the court and service on parties is so much less.

But beyond the potential benefits to taxpayers and the self-interest of the private bar, another vast, often unmentioned constituency that stands to gain more perhaps than any other: Attorney-represented court users. E-filing has the potential to greatly reduce the cost of legal representation, thereby dramatically lowering one of the classically high barriers to Access to Justice.

Having been engaged for a number of years in the private practice of law myself, and, currently, married to a hard-working Legal Assistant in a busy law firm, I have some first-hand knowledge of why legal representation is expensive while at the same time (contrary to what most people think) not all that many attorneys are getting rich providing it.

My wife’s firm handles cases in the state and federal courts. I, as a loyal spouse, dutifully listen as she unwinds every day. Interestingly, several years ago, her complaints about filing problems largely concerned her frustration with having to master the [then] “new” process of e-filing with the federal court. Nowadays, her frustration is more about the fact that the state courts have not yet implemented e-filing, and the hassle, interruption, cost, and unreliability engendered because of the need for physically filing documents with them.

Now, I know how much my wife makes; and, given her knowledge and experience, she does not come cheap. I also know that she has more to do in a day than she can ever get done. As a result, every minute she spends working on things like making sure documents get filed is one less minute she has available to spend on fee-generating activities that require her specialized experience and knowledge. All that time that she and the others in her office devote to filing gets charged, of course, to the office’s clients.

There are a myriad of other ways in which e-filing improves Access to Justice. For low-income pro se litigants, for whom filing fees have typically been waived, e-filing systems tend to be “progressive”, in that they allow low income filers and their representatives to file for free. Other improvements include the potential ability to remotely access court documents, thereby eliminating the need to travel, park, etc.; the use of smart forms attached to workflow to improve data entry speed and accuracy (particularly for pro-se filings); the ability to use a local attorney for dealings with remote courts; and so on. But the direct reduction to clients in the cost of legal services as the result of e-filing is both one of the largest and one of the least-often cited benefits to the users of the justice system.

In any discussion of “Access to Justice”, the beneficial impact of e-filing, including potential reduction in cost to those seeking access to the justice system, should be prominently featured.

Down on the Farm

Mr. & Mrs. Brown

“I LIKE horses”, said Farmer Brown.  “I’ve always used horses to do the plowing; my daddy always used horses to do the plowing; and his daddy before him always used horses to do the plowing.  I UNDERSTAND horses.  I know how to take care of horses.  The barn is set up for the horses.  I have a pasture for horses, with a fence that my farmhands fix regularly.   I have hay fields that we work to produce hay for the horses.  We know HOW to produce the hay. ”

“I just don’t WANT a tractor.  I don’t know how to drive a tractor.  My farmhands don’t know how to take care of tractors.  We’d have to get gas.”

“Beyond all that, tractors are EXPENSIVE!  And times are hard.  I’ve already had to let a number of the farmhands go; but the work keeps piling up.”

“Now, I’ll grant you that the tractor doesn’t get tired or sick.  Sure, it can pull a plow that is three times the weight a horse can pull and can do a whole lot of other things besides plowing.  Yes; it’s also a lot easier to put away and doesn’t take up near as much room.  And I’ll also grant that gas is a lot less expensive than all that hay; leave aside the cost of the pasture and the hay fields.”

“Of course, we COULD get a tractor AND keep the horses.  That way, we’d get the productivity advantages of the tractor, and we would still have the comfort of having our horses around.  The best of both worlds.”

“Also, unfortunately, the expense of both worlds,” pointed out Mrs. Brown, who keeps the farm books.  

For some reason, Farmer Brown neglected to thank her for her observation.  He continued on, exclaiming,  “I’m a good farmer.  I know the soil; I know what to plant, when to plant, how to irrigate and fertilize, when to harvest, how to market.  I produce good crops.  I’m a GOOD farmer!”

“No one says you’re not a good farmer, dear, ” said Mrs. Brown.  “In fact, everyone knows you’re an excellent farmer.  But to be the best farmer you can be, shouldn’t you run the best farm possible?”

“Well, sure.  But to tell you the truth, I’m more than a little afraid of tractors.  I’m afraid that, because I don’t understand them, they’ll start dictating how I’m supposed to farm.”

“Oh,” interrupted Mrs. Brown. “Will a tractor change our climate?  Will it change the soil?  Will it change what produce people will buy?”

“No; of course not,” Farmer Brown admitted.

Mrs. Brown sighed.  “Dear, the fact is that in some ways it WILL change how you farm.  For example, the back forty, that you have left fallow because you haven’t had time and horse teams enough to work it; you’ll probably start working it.  That will bring in more crops, which means you’ll need to expand the silo.   And I expect there will be other changes, too.  You’ll want to learn to drive the tractor.  The farmhands will need to learn to maintain it.  We’ll have to get gas. 

What it WON’T change is that the farm needs a good farmer.  And it won’t change the fact that you ARE a good farmer.”

“Well, could I NAME the tractor?”

  *   *   *   *   *   * 

 Key to decoding the above parable: 

  • Farmer = Judge
  • Horses = Paper-based records system
  • Plowing = Reading and Signing
  • Barn = Courthouse
  • Pasture = File Room
  • Fence = Paper record security
  • Hay = Court processes for using paper records
  • Soil, irrigation, fertilization = The justice system, the law, process and procedure, people
  • Crops – Decisions
  • Tractor = Electronic Content Management System
  • Gas = ECMS processes with configurable workflow
  • Back Forty – Programs like specialty (eg, Drug, Family) courts