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.

 

Information Management, Prepare to Meet Augmented Reality

I assure you that there is a relationship between the subject of this piece and Justice Information Management. Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure yet just what that relationship IS; but I’m positive it exists and that one day, I (and maybe you) will recognize it.

The subject: Pokémon GO. 111_pokemon

Last weekend, while strolling through Riverfront Park, I watched with great interest as dozens of people, alone, in pairs, or in groups walked by, intent on their smartphones, playing Pokémon GO. If you are even less familiar with the game than I am (and that’s pretty darn unfamiliar), the game involves looking at the world around you through the camera on your smartphone. Into this rendering of your current reality, images of Pokémon are superimposed. My understanding is that in some way players attempt to “capture” the Pokémons (Pokémen? Pokémae?); but that’s largely irrelevant to my point, except to note the interaction with something that isn’t really there.

Welcome to the world of Augmented Reality. From the Star Trek Holodeck to The Terminator, Augmented Reality has received a lot of Sci-Fi exposure for a long time. Within the past several years, actual implementations of Augmented Reality have become available. Remember Google Glass? Last year, at CTC, I was blown aware by the Courtroom of the Future Augmented Reality exhibit, which put the viewer into the middle of the courtroom. Go on down to Best Buy and you can try on Augmented Reality viewers.

What’s different about Pokémon GO is that PEOPLE ARE USING IT – lots and lots of people.

Up until now, Augmented Reality has largely been a technology in search of a reason to exist. Google Glass failed to catch on largely because nobody could come up with any really good reason why anyone needed it.

Well, Pokémon GO players can give you a reason – AR glasses would be a lot more convenient than having to stare at your phone.

I think Pokémon GO is to what we’ll see in a few years as the original PacMan was to Black Ops III. I think that the significance of Pokémon GO is that it gets Augmented Reality into general circulation.

The significance of this development to Justice Information Management, then, is — what?

 

As I admitted at the top, darned if I know.  But I’m pretty sure it is significant and that soon enough we’ll all understand why, and say to ourselves, “Well, of course.”

 

I have a couple pretty far out thoughts. Some things generally regarding courts could include applications like remote (or dead) witnesses seemingly sitting in the witness chair. But the nexus with Justice Information Management is harder for me to make out.

 

The reason I’m so sure that there will be a nexus is that, in many ways, this technology represents a new frontier in user-to-information system interface. And the history in my lifetime has been that the easier and more transparent that interface becomes, the greater and more rapid the penetration of technological implementation into real world processes.

 

Some things are as easy to predict as shooting fish in a barrel – like courts having to deal with people trying to play Augmented Reality games while in the courthouse; and Augmented Reality being used for in-court demonstrations. Can it be applied to communication? To information and metadata retrieval? To workflow management?

 

My instincts say, all of the above, and more. But then again, there remains the serious question whether or not I’m playing with a full deck. I would love to know what others think.

 

Meanwhile, here’s a scary potential technology confluence to keep you awake at night: Pokémon GO and driverless cars.

 

Stay tuned.

 

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.

 

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. 

109_cloud

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.

 

Electronic Filing: Law Firm Considerations

This is Part 9 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 8 here.

 Ten to fifteen years ago, some of the strongest advocacy for the rather radical idea of eFiling came from large law firms. While smaller firms had some serious doubts as to “what was in it for them”, larger firms had already learned (sometimes against their initial will) some major lessons from dealing with the then-nascent, mandatory, federal eFiling system. The biggest of these lessons may be loosely summarized as “eFiling is easier, cheaper, and more reliable than paper filing.”

Today, my technophobic wife, a long-time legal secretary, becomes frustrated and annoyed when she has to file a matter with a court that has yet to adopt eFiling. So much for the “It’s too complicated, too cumbersome, and too difficult” rants that I used to endure at the inception of eFiling.

69_mrs wormerRemoving the logistics of physically getting documents to court constitutes, in of itself, sufficient reason for law firms to appreciate eFiling. Firms are able to file from anywhere, at any time, immediately, and without sending anyone to the court or waiting for land mail to (hopefully) make its way to the destination. Even when “convenience fees” help fund the system, any fair accounting will rapidly conclude that the firm savings in staff salary, postage, and courier expense significantly mitigates, and probably exceeds any surcharge.

But the advantages (and cost savings) extend far beyond simply getting the documents to court. Most modern, robust eFiling systems also include automatic notice and confirmation of filing (or notice of rejection, to alert the firm there is a problem). The need to wait for a confirming postcard and then connect it with the file (all of which chews up more staff time) is eliminated; not to mention the potential for malpractice claims.

Moreover, the e-service capabilities of most modern eFiling systems probably generate even more dollar savings than the court filing piece. In two party cases, the savings will be significant. In multi-party cases, the savings can be extremely large. Again, the savings accrue on both ends of the transaction: On already filed cases, service on all parties is automatic. Moreover, confirmation/proof of e-service is ALSO automatic.

For firms doing bulk filings (like collections and small claims, for example), and for multi-party and class action matters, the entire process of claims and case handling can be streamlined along entirely new models.

There are, of course, some important areas of which firms must be aware and provide due diligence. With eFiling comes a host of new court rules. Where a firm deals with just one court, knowing that court’s rules and aligning the firm’s processes with them will take some effort. (As an aside, automated workflow can be of tremendous assistance.)

Far more common will be firms that deal with multiple courts. While there are various initiatives to achieve some form of standards, the fact is, just as has historically been the case, that it seems like no two courts do things exactly the same way.

Even courts using the same eFiling system may (and probably do) have differing rules. When filings are deemed received may be different. Rules for re-eFiling rejected filings may be different. Fee amounts may be different.

The same thing applies if a court is using an Electronic Filing Manager (EFM). While the actual mechanics of filing will be pretty similar for each court despite possible differences in their eFiling systems, each court is going to have its own set of rules. And as we all know too well, courts can be VERY sticky about insisting on adherence to their variation, no matter how obscure.

Fortunately, documentation, training, and “help desk” support has gotten very good. Many courts offer Continuing Legal Education sessions (with credit) for training and updates, and/or refreshers on the ins and outs of eFiling. Law firms should take advantage of it all and not skimp on staff (including attorney) training.

I expect that my wife reflects the typical view of law firm staff when she energetically (and without prompting from me) declares that she would never go back to the days before eFiling.

Coming up next: Blog 10 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Audit Trail and Confidentiality