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.

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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”.

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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.

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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. 

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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

 

In Praise of Tortoises

Jeff is currently on vacation and the eFiling series will resume upon his return with part 2 – Electronic Court Filing Standards.

98_tortoiseReading U.S. supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary I am reminded of an episode from my parenting years involving my youngest daughter. Trying to get her to do something she didn’t want to do was like trying to get a tree to dance. (On the other hand, standing in her way once she decided to go after something has always been a good way to get run over.)

One year we signed her up for the city’s spring youth run. Great fun, good exercise, flashy medal…. The only problem was, she didn’t feel like running that day.

Now, most kids, surrounded by several hundred OTHER kids, not to mention countless adult supervisors, would have at least tried to keep up with the pack to avoid being identified as the one slow-poke. Not my daughter. In an impressive display of disregard for peer pressure and fear of public humiliation, she strolled. By the end, the adults around her were imploring her to pick up the pace; all to no avail.

Meanwhile, the audience, the other runners, and the subsequent heats all waited. And waited.

My daughter has since grown up to be a formidable, high-performance, successful professional. Interestingly, she uses BOTH traits to her advantage. So maybe she knew what she was doing.

But the wait was STILL frustrating.

With these fond memories in mind, I consider Chief Justice John Roberts’s Report, wherein he discusses the nature and change of technology, particularly Electronic Case Management, Electronic Document Management, and Electronic Filing, in the Supreme Court and in the courts in general. He unabashedly acknowledges not only the usually slow pace of court adoption of new technology, but that the slowness of the pace and resistance to change is in many ways intentional.

“[T]he courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity. Courts are simply different in important respects when it comes to adopting technology, including information technology. While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations….

“…Federal judges are stewards of a judicial system that has served the Nation effectively for more than two centuries. Like other centuries-old institutions, courts may have practices that seem archaic and inefficient — and some are. But others rest on traditions that embody intangible wisdom. Judges and court executives are understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well until they are satisfied that they are introducing change for the good….

“…The sculptures that adorn the Supreme Court provide a reminder of that resolve… The often overlooked east pediment, installed on the rear portion of the building, features images of historic lawgivers and other symbolic figures. It is flanked by imagery drawn from a well-known fable: A hare on one side sprints in full extension for the finish line, while a tortoise on the other slowly plods along. Perhaps to remind us of which animal won that famous race, Cass Gilbert placed at the bases of the Court’s exterior lampposts sturdy bronze tortoises, symbolizing the judiciary’s commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice.”

Notwithstanding that the Chief Justice articulates that the courts may not move as fast as other institutions and society in general, he clearly declares that change will eventually come, saying

“As technology proceeds apace, we cannot be sure what changes are in store, for the courts or society generally. Innovations will come and go, but the judiciary will continue to make steady progress in employing new technology to provide litigants with fair and efficient access to the courts.”

OK. Some are waiting. But more and more courts are past waiting. ECM and eFiling have in fact become mainstream and of proven reliability. Most courts and their constituents simply cannot afford to eschew their clear advantages. With all due respect to SCOTUS, the courts serve the people; and next race to meet the increasingly complex and pressing societal need for judicial services is well under way. The tortoise never wins the race without pressing deliberately forward.

Living with “The Law”

Courts have an interesting relationship with the law. On one hand, they have little or no control over what laws are put in place, yet they must deal with those that are enacted, whether they like them or not.

So it is with Moore’s Law which states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. What Moore’s Law means is that the raw power of information technology – the engine that drives it – is doubling every two years.

An ancient tale illustrates the implications of Moore’s Law. The tale is that a king, being grateful to a man for some service, offers him “anything he wants.” The man produces a chessboard and tells the king he wants one grain of rice on the first day on the first square; double that (two grains) on the second day on the second square, double that (four grains) on the third day, and so on, through the 64 squares on the board. 93_chessboard_rice

For the first couple weeks, the man got hardly enough rice for a few spoonfuls. Assuming approximately 7,500 grains to a cup, he finally got nearly a cup after about two weeks (13 doublings). In another week though, he was entitled to over 55 pounds THAT DAY. By Day 27, his entitlement was 1.75 TONS of rice.

And he wasn’t even half done.

Much has been written about the implications of Moore’s Law in all facets of life. When one considers that the fundamental activity and purpose of courts is to process information, a couple things become clear.

One: Extrapolating backwards, Year Zero of Moore’s Law is about 1960. That means that as of 2014, we’ve been through about 27 doublings. Information processing power has increased over 67 million times since Dwight Eisenhower left office – from a single grain of rice to almost two tons.

What matters is not the number. What matters is what that increase in information processing power has meant – from space travel to smartphones to the Internet to ankle bracelet prisoner monitoring to “Paperless” courts to shirts that know when they need to be washed and tell the washing machine at what temperature to wash them.

Two: The other thing that matters is that, if we were talking about grains of rice, after the 27th doubling we’d have several tons. A lot to pile on a chessboard; yet we can still comprehend it. But between the 27th and 32 doublings – that is, the next ten years – the rate starts to really matter. In terms of rice, that’s around 56 TONS.

So we come to the really important point: Despite everything that’s happened with regard to technology and change in the courts over the past 55 years, THE REAL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY HAS NOT YET STARTED TO HIT THE COURTS. Our descendants will, in all likelihood, look back on the late 20th and early 21st Centuries as the “early” stage of information technology development.

Technology, of course, doesn’t comprise the total universe of change. Laws, for example, change at a rate far less dramatic than transistors on a circuit. Nevertheless, technology is driving up the rate of change of just about everything, INCLUDING laws. We can easily expect to see as much change in the next five years as we have experienced in the past 20 years. To understand what that means, consider that 20 years ago, almost no one knew what the Internet was.

The slope of an asymptotic curve becomes increasingly slippery as it approaches vertical. Courts and their political jurisdictions to whom they are responsible should be making ongoing rule-making, process re-engineering, and change management a top priority, not an afterthought.