Why eFiling Alone Isn’t Enough

By Steve Glisky, Government Practice Manager, ImageSoft

Courts making the transition from paper document filing to eFiling have taken an important first step in streamlining operations and saving resources. EFiling is a good place to start since it helps satisfy constituent demand for greater online access. EFiling alone, however, typically falls short of achieving one of the most pressing goals of the court: eliminating the burden of maintaining a paper court file. 69_mrs wormer

If a court makes eFiling mandatory, it’s only natural to think that the Clerk will soon stop maintaining paper. Many courts soon realize that their so-called document management system simply lacks the functionality required to meet the processing needs of the court.  Most of these solutions offer a simple document storage and retrieval system with file share links to their CMS. Once they’re confronted with process steps that require rules-based routing, most courts typically end up just printing, processing, and maintaining a dual paper case file.

The benefits of eFiling are multiplied when paired with a robust document management and workflow solution. Progressive courts use advanced document management and workflow with eFiling to achieve a true digital case flow management environment.


To learn more about avoiding the printing of eFiled documents for court processes, click here.

Here are a few key features to consider when evaluating a document management solution for your court.

Electronic Case File

Presentation and preservation of the electronic case file is the cornerstone of the electronic court. An intuitive electronic case file dramatically increases buy-in from key stakeholders and creates a better-than-paper experience with features such as:

  • Intuitive filing structure: Case files are organized and managed using color-coded tabs with advanced filtering and sorting to make finding the right documents easier.
  • Revision control: The system keeps and maintains prior revisions, preserving the integrity of the case file as documents get marked-up and changed.
  • Document history: All activity associated with a document should be logged and be easily accessible, including workflow transaction history, who viewed/ printed/annotated/updated/signed, etc.
  • Redaction: Confidential information must be redacted before the public can view documents. Courts need a method for redaction without having to print off digital files or photocopy paper ones, redact, and then scan in for public access. Those courts with high case volumes should consider an automated method to reduce the burden on staff.
  • Document retention: The system automatically purges documents from the electronic case file according to the Clerk’s document retention and disposal schedule.
  • Security: All roles within the justice system have secured access to the electronic case file in the way that works best for them, only allowing access to the documents that they have rights to view, i.e., public, sealed, confidential, and expunged records.
  • Full text search: Searching document content across the entire case file provides high value for both the judge and staff. The ability to search across multiple cases is also a major benefit.
  • Mobile device support: Since the physical case file no longer exists, the Court must consider how the parties will access the electronic case file using tablets, smart phones, or some other device (e.g., kiosks).

 

Workflow

Workflow is the single most significant component to a digital case flow management environment because of the process efficiencies it creates. All courts have defined steps that govern how documents are processed. Workflow allows for automated routing and processing of electronic documents and data. Consider these key workflow features:

  • A rules engine with a simple interface to manage step-by-step routing rules: Authorized court personnel should be able to maintain these rules and reduce IT dependency.
  • Electronic forms with a forms designer and management tool to convert paper forms into electronic forms: The case jacket and decision sheet are commonly used electronic forms.
  • Electronic signatures and markup capability that allow a user to markup and edit a document before signing: Consider a solution with judicial stamps with support for both top and bottom line text and proxy signing for authorized users.
  • Electronic notification of parties: This reduces significant postage and improves processing speed.
  • Electronic certification: It improves service and integrity without having to print and physically seal documents. The delivery should include an authentication site for verifying document authenticity, an audit trail of recipient access, and a method to expire documents.
  • Packet preparation organizes a case file with a coversheet according to specific requirements set forth by the higher court. Courts typically use this for bind-overs and appeals.
  • Standard interface for connecting and exchanging information with CMS.
  • Electronic arraignment that streamlines packet creation, arraignment and the document signature process: It should support both video and face-to-face arraignments.
  • A judicial dashboard: It provides an intuitive tool for both the judge and staff to process the electronic docket.

Summary

Courts are adopting eFiling at a much greater rate to improve customer service and online access. Prior to making eFiling mandatory, courts should carefully consider the capabilities of their document management and workflow platform to see if it’s going to meet their requirements for creating a true digital case flow management environment. Equally important is to determine how best to map their manual based processes to the new electronic paradigm. Finally, the new solution should accommodate the unique needs of your judicial officers.

Those that have successfully made this transition understand that it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize the efficiency and transparency of the court.

Is your court ready to move beyond eFiling?

Too Good To Pass Up

The Time: The 13th Century A.D.

The Place: Western Europe The Government: The Holy Roman Empire

The Legacy Technology: Vellum and Parchment

The New (well, to Europe, anyway) Technology: Paper

The Law: No Document on Paper May Be Considered An Official Document

89_too goodWhile it may be true that I have — to put it charitably – a tendency to imagine facts and events that never actually occurred, even I couldn’t make this one up. While conducting some background research, I stumbled on this incredible factoid:

In 1221, in response to the recent (to Europe) introduction of paper, which threatened to upend more than a few apple carts, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Second declared that paper could not be used for the “official” rendering of a document and that documents on paper were therefore of no legal force and effect.

Yep. You could USE paper; but to make it official, you had to copy it to vellum or parchment. I mean, let’s face it, paper just doesn’t smell right. For that, you need animal carcasses. (Not coincidentally, the wealthy European landowners with herds of sheep and cattle had a considerable stake in this policy. Is this ironic? Take a look at “Who Is That Lurking in the Shadows and take a wild guess what I think.)

One can only imagine the work-arounds. Paper, being cheaper to make, easier to handle and transport, more readily available, more easily stored and accessed, and much less environmentally sensitive, was undoubtedly being used whenever possible. However, at the last step, some monk or another would need to copy the content onto vellum or parchment. Doubtless a paper copy was also retained so it could be more easily and safely stored, accessed and used long after the parchment copy had reverted to rawhide from humidity or crumbled into dust or both.

And so, it appears, the world of dual systems persisted in Europe for awhile. Everyone is familiar with the great technological, cultural, artistic and social strides in Europe over the next couple hundred years – namely, not much to speak of. They aren’t called “The Dark Ages” for nothing. Anyway, operating with dual, redundant, inefficient record maintenance systems seems like it fit right in.

Eventually, the alarm clock went off: The printing press was invented. And guess what: Animal skins didn’t work too well in printing presses. Rules or no rules, paper took over in very short order, and Europe woke up with the Renaissance.

Now, far be it from me to blame The Dark Ages on regressive policies inhibiting the adoption of technological improvements in document management. After all, the Dark Ages started hundreds of years earlier (except, of course, in Asia, where paper had already been introduced; but I swear I’m not trying to make a connection). And banning paper was hardly the only reactionary restriction erected at the first sign of change. But still, let’s face it, it couldn’t have helped.

Here is my real point: I’m sure Fred II had some very intelligent, and possibly well-meaning people urging him to stop the dangerous trend toward unproven paper technology when, after all, writing on parchment and vellum had been going on for generations at least. But seen from today’s vantage point, it looks really silly.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that current requirements to maintain a paper or microfiche (“machine-readable”) copy of an “official” document is going to look pretty silly to our descendants; and a lot sooner than eight hundred years in the future. In fact, it’s an increasingly tough case to make with a straight face today.