The Component Model and Going Beyond eFiling

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft, Inc.

IMG_1827001002 (002)The Court Technology Conference in Salt Lake City last month went far beyond all of our expectations. We were kept busy networking with court staff members, doing live demos and sharing our experiences. Thanks for stopping by our booth and attending our two major presentations.

The Component Model in Action

Jenny Bunch talked about how our methodology of technology design fits right in with the National Center for State Courts promotion of a new interoperability model for court technology vendors. NCSC wants vendors to design products as components so that a court can take advantage of the best offerings of one vendor and integrate them with those of another. We discovered early on that building large, monolithic applications makes it difficult for courts to adopt newer technology as it too often requires removing core systems just to acquire bits of new functionality. With the component model, courts can add new functionality easier. As a vendor, we can accelerate innovations because we are focusing on one component at a time.

We continue to develop future projects which offer high levels of component design. These projects include smaller sets of functionality so courts can adopt individual pieces rather than having to purchase wholesale applications that don’t integrate well with other systems.

Among the examples of courts following this idea are those in Michigan, Tennessee and California which are using new JusticeTech components integrated with an existing system. In fact, in each of these cases, we took the lead in the integration project. See our case study library to read about courts implementing JusticeTech technology to streamline court operations.

Going Beyond eFiling

Does this sound familiar? Your court has an eFiling system but clerks are still printing and routing paper around the court and spending hours or days re-keying information into a case management system that could have and should have so easily and automatically entered the needed information from the eFiled document into the CMS. Brad Smith’s presentation showed how the electronic workflow is the missing piece of the puzzle that routes documents around the court automatically, as well as sharing documents with other agencies. Courts with a decentralized judiciary are attaining a digital workflow all the way to the courtroom without the expense of replacing their existing CMS because integration is built into the technology.

Brad also discussed how any project to automate the court must involve all stakeholders because the system will touch the clerks, judges, local bar, prosecutors, the sheriff and related state agencies.

Read more reasons why eFiling alone is not enough.

The Best of Brew: A Packed House

IMG_1873001002You know it’s been a terrific conference when the afterhours reception had to be extended to allow show attendees to continue networking and sharing experiences with each other. Or maybe it was the brew?

What was your most important take-away from the CTC conference?

Wine, Cloth, Carpentry and Court Automation

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

It’s pretty intuitive that when it costs less to acquire and run an automated system than to pay people to do the same work it makes financial sense to implement the technology. However, what is a lot less intuitive, but, paradoxically, a lot more true, is that it can make more financial sense to implement technology even if people could do the tasks for less.

140_competitve theoryWhile reading William Berstein’s A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (a fascinating and incredibly timely read), I had one of those “Aha” moments (either an epiphany or an unscheduled, age-related loss of brain cells, I’m never sure which). This one related to the international trade economic Theory of Comparative Advantage, first promulgated in the early 1800s, and how it might apply to the business case for implementation of automated systems in the courts.

In terms of international trade, the intuitively obvious conclusion is that if one nation (Country A) can produce something for less than another nation (Country B) can produce it, Country A should never buy that product from Country B. That’s what’s called The Principle of Absolute Advantage. Very obvious. Very simple. And, often, very wrong.

The key factor is Opportunity Cost. In the classic example, assume Country A can produce wine for half as much as Country B and cloth for one third as much as Country B. Further assume, in the perfect world of the theoretical economist, that any resources (labor, equipment, land) devoted to production of wine will reduce the amount of cloth that can be produced. In that case, Country A makes out a lot better buying wine from Country B in order to maximize production of the higher-margin cloth.

The part that got me thinking about the technology business case was a non-international (and for me much more understandable) illustration. Assume a highly specialized, very skilled and experienced attorney in high demand can bill $1,000 an hour. Assume also that the attorney is a very skilled carpenter; so much so that the attorney can do in half the time the same quality work as a master carpenter, who charges $100 an hour. As a strictly financial or business proposition (leaving aside personal satisfaction), should the attorney do or not do a DIY remodel job? Clearly, to the extent the time remodeling reduces legal practice billable hours, the attorney is losing (by not earning) money. That’s Opportunity Cost.

Now look at the business case for court technology. Suppose the acquisition and ongoing operational costs, for whatever reason, appear to be greater than or not significantly less than using staff to perform the same functions. While the Principle of Absolute Advantage (the obvious answer) would suggest that it would be more cost effective to forego the technology, such a conclusion may well overlook substantial Opportunity Costs. Simply put, what AREN’T those staff doing when they are manually dealing with those physical documents? What ISN’T the file storage area being used for while it houses all those files? What could those resources be better spent on? And so on.

While not the only question in the business case, how much is “being left on the table” should absolutely go into the calculation. If every staff person were capable of transporting, filing, or tracking documents and nothing else, perhaps the Opportunity Cost would be low. But that’s rarely the case. Those folks could be, and should be, and would be happier doing so much more.

 

Imagine – Part 3

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Part Three: MaaS and its Effects on Insurance and Personal Injury Cases; Technologies to Predict Outcomes

In Part One of this series, we talked about the growth of Mobility as a Service and how it is fundamentally and forever changing personal transportation.

In Part Two of this series, we looked at augmented driving and self-driving vehicles and their effect on the volume of traffic violations.

To start, consider that 94 percent of all traffic accidents result from driver error. Insurance companies are aware of this fact. So are the companies moving to develop self-driving cars. Over a year ago, Volvo declared it will assume 100 percent liability for any accidents or injuries caused by one of its vehicles while operating in fully autonomous mode; the other players (car manufacturers and makers of autonomous driving systems) are following suit.

As I noted in an article awhile back,

Of course, the manufacturers will tack the liability insurance cost onto the vehicle cost, right?

Well, maybe so; but that doesn’t mean what you might think. The average vehicle lifetime cost for liability insurance is in the neighborhood of $10,000. But, the car manufacturers don’t figure it that way. Instead, they look at what they expect the assumption of liability to cost them.

 In their risk analysis, the key piece of information is how much of the financial cost insured by that $10,000 per vehicle is based on driver error. The answer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is … 94 percent.

 The manufacturers are betting that their cars can do better than that – a lot better. Six percent of $10,000 is $600. Then take out the necessity for insurance companies to sell policies, collect premiums, process claims, and provide a return to shareholders from the original $10 grand

So, the real number looks like something less than $600. Indeed, based on this type of analysis, buyers of self-driving vehicles might well expect significantly lower cost of ownership than with driver-driven cars. Basically, there will be a lot less risk and a lot fewer intermediaries.

The manufacturers are going to be the insurers; and they are betting they won’t be making big PI payouts very often. If this bet is even partly right, it will fundamentally change the insurance industry. It’s also likely to change the courts’ case mix and volume.

Computer Based/Computer Augmented Prediction of Case Outcome Approaching 100% Accuracy

137_imagine3If you watch any TV, you have seen the ads for IBM’s Watson. That’s just one of the manifestations of how far along the expert systems curve we are. Currently in areas as different as medicine and chess, in the ranking of successful diagnosis/prediction/performance capability, humans come in third. Computer systems (such as Watson) come in second. Yes, better than humans. In first place, though, are humans working WITH tools such as Watson.

The results of Artificial Intelligence systems to predict outcomes in the legal realm have shown predictability success rates exceeding those of experienced attorneys and/or judges.  And these systems are in their infancy.

Consider the following case types, and the impact if parties (or potential parties) knew in advance that they had essentially no chance of success:

  • Small Claims
  • Traffic Violation
  • Misdemeanor
  • Felony
  • Family Law
    • Child Custody
    • Support
    • Property Division
  • Personal Injury

It’s not a big stretch to foresee low- or no-cost apps that, given the correct “framing” of the case and facts, will provide all but certain predictability in many, many cases.

The key, of course, will be in the discovery. In some cases, legally trained help may be a requisite for getting the best prediction. In others, with very straightforward facts, there may be minimal need to consult a legal expert.

Once again, though, as people are able to see whether filing or defending a case have any realistic chance of success, filings would decrease and actual trials would become even more rare. Not to zero, (hope springs eternal) plus, as we know, clients routinely ignore the advice of attorneys in this regard. But in many areas, particularly involving pro-se litigants, expect filing and trial numbers to decline.

The Challenge

Go back to the “Imagine” categories and try to visualize court management, assuming these changes came to pass.

What would change in my court if ____

  • Revenue from minor traffic and/or parking fines is cut 50-90 per cent?
  • Filings of cases involving traffic violations drop, again by 50-90 percent?
  • Filings of auto-based personal injury cases drop by 50-90 per cent?
  • And of those filing, less than 20 percent go to trial?
  • Parties were able to ascertain (sometimes with the assistance of lawyers, sometimes without) the estimated outcome of cases with a likelihood of 95 percent or more in three quarters of all cases, and to accordingly plead, settle, or not even file?

Then, consider that there is a very great likelihood that the LARGEST changes are not on the list. After all, twenty years ago no one had heard of the Internet, so it was not included in anyone’s predictions of the future. Just over ten years ago, no one outside of developers (and Star Trek fans) even imagined the iPhone. The term “social media” probably conjured up thoughts of People magazine. Five years ago, few people had heard of “shale oil,” and fewer still assumed that gasoline would sell for under $2.50 a gallon.

So, what’s the elephant in the room that we’re not seeing today? As The Moody Blues would say, if you know, please tell me. Whatever it is, it will make its presence felt pretty soon.

Meanwhile, imagine…

 

 

Imagine – Part 2

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Part Two: Augmented/Self-Driving Vehicles

In Part One of this series, we talked about the growth of Mobility as a Service and how it is fundamentally and forever changing personal transportation. 

136_imagine2If/when Augmented Driving becomes more than a niche phenomenon, it will quite predictably accelerate the shift toward Mobility as a Service. For proof, look no further than Uber’s multi-million dollar investment in self-driving vehicles. Allowing users to summon up, and send away, cars at need reduces a large percentage of the need for a personally owned vehicle.

With the emergence of MaaS, the incidence of traffic violations can be expected to substantially drop. Add to that augmented and/or self-driving vehicles, and the drop dramatically increases. Why? Because all but an insignificant number of traffic violations performed by vehicles operating based on algorithms will result either from one of two causes: First, faulty/illegal instructions from the traveler; not misconduct by the driver. Second, from the traveler overriding the algorithm and taking manual control.

So, for example, if the traveler instructs the vehicle to exceed the speed limit, and if the vehicle’s algorithm permits such an override, while there may be a violation, it would not be a driving violation. And, it’s an interesting question whether we as a society would allow such an algorithm. And even if allowed, would we as a society NOT require that such a command be observable by law enforcement systems in real time, just as a vehicle’s motion may be permissibly observed in real time by law enforcement – on the ground, in the air, or through imbedded technology (cameras, sensors) along the road, or (most effective) transmitted from the vehicle itself?

Personally, I think you can expect fully autonomous vehicles sooner rather than later, although implementation will not be uniform nor global. “Low-hanging fruit” includes

Add to this mix the pressure from insurance companies (and maybe, later, legislative bodies) to either require or provide even more incentives for even greater augmentation, just as they have done with seat belts, ABS brakes, and air bags. In the trucking industry, for example, insurers are requiring installation of technology to monitor driver driving hours and mental acuity in accordance with new federal regulations as a requisite to writing policies for long-haul trucks.

In fairly short order, I think you can expect, at a minimum, price breaks for some or all of the following:

  • Speed governors (regulating maximum speed), possibly with context awareness e.g., What is the speed limit here? How fast is the surrounding traffic moving? What are the weather and surface conditions?.
  • Biometric driver recognition (face, voice, handprint, other) possibly connected to whether or not the vehicle will operate at all.
  • Driver physical competency evaluation, such as determining whether the driver is under the influence, fatigued, etc., again connected to whether the vehicle will operate.
  • Permission for always-on “black box” capability that can locate and track the vehicle in real time and/or be used to determine where the vehicle has been and what it was doing at any given time in the past.

More difficult to imagine, not for the technology, but for the politics, would be acceptance of both real-time and historical law enforcement monitoring of all vehicular activity as a requirement to use the public roads. The debate will occur. There is currently, of course, no right to not be observed while operating a vehicle on public roads. And, all vehicles must display a unique identifier (the license plate) while on the public roads. In some jurisdictions, opaque windows that interfere with law enforcement’s ability to see what’s inside the vehicle, are illegal.

In other words, real-time monitoring and control of vehicle driving is already here, and will continue to reduce the amount of driver-committed traffic violations. Will the “right” to take one’s chance that he/she is not being observed be deemed to outweigh the safety aspects of universal monitoring? The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

In any event, it’s hard not to predict a decline in traffic violations. Thus, fewer traffic court cases and less traffic fine revenue.

And, for the same reason, fewer traffic accidents. Which equates to fewer Personal Injury cases. A LOT fewer PI cases.

Coming in Part Three: Effects on Insurance and Personal Injury Cases; Technologies to Predict Outcomes

Childhood’s End

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

Notice anything different about this post?

The difference is probably hard to spot. The difference is ––I’m dictating directly into my word processor. 131_voiceactivation

Now, that may not seem very different to you; but I guarantee you, it’s really different for me. Sure, I used to dictate all the time when I was practicing law. I even dictated quite a bit when we were developing and deploying court computer systems. I’ve dictated documentation, help text, process and procedure descriptions and instructions, and, of course, correspondence.

And, of course, Siri and I are chat pals.

However, the experience of dictating and see the words appear on screen in my document is (for me, at least) totally unlike dictating to either a live stenographer or a dictation unit.

I regard this activity as preparation for direct Brain Machine Interface.

Oh, you don’t believe that BMI is coming anytime soon? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably the comfortable majority.

Among those not in the comfortable majority are Mark Zuckerberg, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and Google, to name a few. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is already doing it. Granted, it is currently very expensive and requires invasive surgery. But Facebook, DARPA, and Google are betting that changes in a big way in the next five or so years.

You don’t have to believe BMI it is possible; but you should be thinking about the implications if it is. Because, whether ubiquitous BMI is just around the corner or not, capabilities that are mighty close are already here.

Like dictation directly into a standard word processor, email, and, most directly, text messaging.

How do you think voice activation will enter court technology?

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?

To Wade In Or Jump?

“Big Bang” Or “Staged” Change and the “Open” Versus “Closed” Technology Ecosystem

Everyone who has ever approached a cool lake, stream, surf, or pool knows the conundrum: Enter the water slowly to get acclimated; or take the plunge and endure the shock. Is there a “correct” answer? Maybe; but the truth is, there are disadvantages to each.

123_Digital-Ecosystem

Courts face the same dilemma when it comes to embarking on change, which often includes the prospect of immersion in some new technology. As the desired end-result is to be “in the water” no matter the technique used to get wet, the decision may be reduced to a basic tactical question, “What’s the best way to get the new technology in place?”.

I confess that I may have taken that position on occasion. Yet a strong argument can be made that the decision on how to get there is more strategic than tactical. Consider this statement from a recent Forbes article:

Smart organizations learn quickly enough that if they place efficiency above a smooth organizational transformation, they may find their automation efforts fail to improve their companies’ performance.

My take on this observation is that in this era of constant disruption, the ability of an organization to handle change (including introduction of new technology) constitutes a strategic imperative; not just a tactical choice.


Download a white paper on the business case for a paper-on-demand court.

Given that many courts have a finite capacity to absorb change without breaking some really important things, the “Big Bang” approach may have the dual unfortunate consequences of failing to achieve the objective and unintentionally degrading (or missing an opportunity to improve) the court’s capacity to constructively embrace change.

Moreover, in some ways, these considerations permeate the current discussions in court technology circles regarding the relative advantages of “Open” versus “Closed” technology ecosystems.

At e-Courts 2016, in the session Good Public Policy for Innovation: Open vs. Closed Eco-System , California Court of Appeals Justice Terry Bruniers, Orange County Superior Court CEO Alan Carlson, and Santa Clara County Superior Court CIA  Robert Oyung discussed the plusses and minuses of each approach.

The “traditional”, which is to say, legacy, approach using a “Closed” ecosystem was, to a great degree, forced upon courts in the early days of court case and records management technology. Through the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s, there was little in the way of standards, the consequence of which was that a system developed for one court could rarely be ported to other courts. The overall large court and state court market was, in a business sense, not large enough to attract big players to develop systems that could be built once and resold (usually after expensive rewriting and customization) many times.

The panelists identified a number of advantages of the “Closed” model, based on their experiences: Ease of management, level of control, easier (and more local) governance, and the ability to “have it my way”. And, since many if not most larger courts and systems “grew up” with the “Closed” model, they are at least culturally used to it.

Nevertheless, the panel unanimously concluded that, on the whole, the “Open” ecosystem model today provides considerably greater advantages. Today’s technical landscape, in contrast to the relatively monolithic and sparsely populated landscape of decades past, provides courts with much greater choice and flexibility across CMS, DMS, e-filing, workflow, judicial workbench, cross-system integration, etc.

Panelists felt that “Open” ecosystems offer increased nimbleness and agility to deal with the rapidly changing environment in which courts must operate and plan today. They spoke of the increased power through availability of “Best of Breed” solutions.

And, in line with the strategic nature of the organization’s ability to adapt to and embrace change, they spoke of the advantages offered by partnering with vendors. One observation was that vendors in many ways are more public-facing, and may know and understand the court’s customers in ways that the court itself does not.

Whatever the choice – staged versus “Big Bang”; “Closed” ecosystem versus “Open” ecosystem – courts should base their decisions on more than what, in the moment, feels like the best tactical reason. The changes involve the body, heart, and soul of the court – so the decisions should be strategically aligned with the court’s longer term considerations.

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”.

122_datawave.jpeg

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.

Thinking Digitally

It takes all types to make a world, so perhaps there are people who actually appreciate and/or read the popups that read something like

“By checking this box I acknowledge I have read and agree to the User Agreement…” [consisting of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of virtual pages of indecipherable gobbeldy-gook].

114_thinking-digitallyOf course, in order to consummate the transaction, you have no choice – you HAVE to check the box. Nevertheless, courts routinely hold that users who check the box have thereby bound themselves to the substance of the said gobbeldy-gook.

I bring up this example to pose a question: Is that which binds the user a document; or is it a data point, meta or otherwise?

I don’t raise this question to be churlish or legalistic; but rather to point out an increasing and accelerating trend towards the evolution, if you will, of what were formerly regarded as “documents” into pure “data”. The transition seems to be a continuum. First, paper documents were converted to electronic form and stored, with added meta-data. Rapidly, the meta-data itself became first useful, then essential, and (in some cases) of greater significance and greater accessibility than the content of the document.

The move to “born electronic” documents moves everything further along the continuum. The distinction between “content” and “meta-data” has gotten real blurry, in case you haven’t noticed.

In fact, more and more, “forms” are replacing “documents”. The form’s actual IDENTITY – what it IS-  (A Motion for a Continuance? A Change of Attorney?) has become meta-data. There is no verbiage; only identification of the transaction type and the relationships.

Among the many implications of this evolution – which is either approaching or has hit the elbow of the asymptotic curve – is that “Records Management” in the historical sense no longer has much relevance. Concepts related to paper and physical files provide little guidance and much confusion when applied to data. Just one example: In the world of paper and physical files, no one asks how many places or in how many documents the name of the defendant’s attorney is stored. In the digital world, the name of the defendant’s attorney may not actually appear in any record or data on any of her cases. Instead, there will be pointers to a central file with all the attorneys’ names. What happens to the old case records when the attorney gets married?

I bring this up not because I believe problems to be pervasive or difficult to surmount; but because it sure seems to me that the entire subject requires a way of thinking completely different from the old ways. Someone probably has a better term, for now, I’ll call it “Thinking Digitally”.

Courts that are thinking digitally will be wanting to “data-tize” what used to be files and documents as quickly and deeply as possible. Essential tools include robust ECM including E-Filing and Workflow, integrated at the data level with Case Management Systems, with data-level intersystem communications among business partners. Without these tools, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can manage “records” at the data level. Because, let’s face it, at the atomic level, the data is a bunch of ones and zeros. Without knowing where it came from, how it was created, how it was processed, when it was “approved” (“By checking this box’ I agree…”), and so on, you CAN’T know what to do with it or how to manage it. Think of the marrying attorney. Multiply that situation by a zillion.

You can bet that Microsoft keeps track of when you checked the box; and you can also bet that they don’t keep a copy of their “Agreement” for everyone who checks the box. Developing the rules, processes, and procedures for today and tomorrow’s records requires thinking digitally about ALL information, whether it is or previously has been contained in a document.

 

Black Belt: Learning to Learn

113_black-beltThe term “Martial Arts” may seem strange to those who have never pursued them. To those who have, however, the term makes perfect sense. Karate, judo, tai-chi, kung-fu, and myriad others, are indeed arts, requiring years of dedicated study and practice to master.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit at the front end. Beginners can pick up the rudiments of self-defense in a relatively short order. Indeed, a lot of folks look no further, in the same way that tourists can pick up enough of a foreign language to get by on a vacation, although they cannot be said to “speak the language”. And, there are a lot of benefits that accrue at the outset: improved fitness, enhanced self-awareness, increased self-confidence, and so on.

Most of those reasons are why people take up a martial art in the first place. When they start, even achieving Green Belt status seems almost impossibly remote. Mastery requires internalizing a complex and non-intuitive set of reflexes that permeate every action and every thought. And there’s just no way to do that without investing a lot of time and effort. Thus, to novices (White Belts), the Green Belts appear to be outstanding, the Brown Belts appear to be perfect practitioners; and the Black Belts are practically gods.

So, here’s a bit of a surprise: A First Degree Black Belt, achieved after years of effort, does not mean that the person has learned all are there is to know. Yes, he or she has become highly proficient, both in the Martial Art and in life in most aspects of life in general. But achievement of First Degree Black Belt status means, within the Martial Arts community, that the recipient is finally qualified and ready to begin learning.

In that regard, the recent announcement that Macomb County, Michigan Circuit Court now processes more documents through its E-Filing System than are received in paper format caused me to reflect that Macomb County and others who have been diligently working on ECM for years are approaching new thresholds. Yes, the ECM systems long ago began providing significant savings, efficiencies, and improved customer service, much as a White Belt realizes great benefits from the first several years of training. But as the courts leave the old paradigm behind – shedding its old skin, as it were – after significant time, effort, and learning, they are positioned to begin leveraging ECM by fully shifting to information management paradigms unencumbered by the limitations of the old world. Things like automatic redaction, fully automated document lifecycle control, rich and detailed metrics of all kinds, real-time data aggregation, and much, much more will be just the beginning.

In fact, no one knows the nature and extent of the capabilities that will be emerging, because unlike martial arts, there are not generations of high-level Black Belts who have been here before. The currently emerging ECM-cognizant courts are the first generation.

The next several years will be interesting and fraught with possibility. Organization, including courts, have to “learn to learn”, just as people do. Many of those who embarked on the ECM journey years ago are, after years of effort and experience, becoming comfortable with Change Management at levels never before possible or even contemplated. For adults set in their ways (and courts, as we know, have been very set in their ways), learning a second language is usually pretty challenging. But learning a new language makes learning yet another language much, much easier. Likewise, fully internalizing a new technology paradigm such as ECM makes identification of and transition to even better operations significantly smoother and less traumatic.

Macomb County Circuit Court and its peers have come a long ways. More exciting, they are in much better position to move forward with each passing step. Tipping to a majority of e-filed documents is a big one. Moving up to the darker-colored belt. Congratulations; I look forward to watching as the journey continues.