Friday, May 20, 2011

Documents as a Two Way Street

Electronic document software should be able to do more to help us do our work in the courts. One problem has been the current inability for the software that has been implemented to be able to work together. For example, when a judge creates an order, they most often create the document in a word processing program, save it; possibly convert it to  PDF; then in turn it is ideally e-filed or less ideally, scanned or printed. Then the data is manually entered into the case management system (CMS). No wonder many court users have a dim view of automation “productivity” when put through these multiple and often confusing steps? But it doesn't have to be that way.

All major word processing and forms software has the ability to merge data from a database into a document when created. Many CMS have been doing this since the early 1980’s via mail merge functionality. But most don’t realize that one can identify data entry fields (see this Microsoft Word example article) so that the data can be “read” for data entry by the database. Therefore the new scenario could be: first, the judge or clerk would select the document to be created; the database in turn would be called upon to complete/merge the known data into the document. When complete, the data added by the user would in turn be read by the system and automatically entered into the CMS database. This helps the judge/clerk accomplish their task and, avoids the need for subsequent data entry and other steps. This is the two way street. But just as important, the document itself should be automatically stored or attached as part of the CMS database so that it is an integral part of the court record.

In other words, this approach minimizes multiple steps as well as complexity. And since the major technology vendors have provided the ability to do full text search of documents stored in their databases, the court users can retrieve document data both through the case number but also using “Google” type searches. For discussion of Microsoft database search capabilities click here and here and for Oracle click here.

Bottom line: the technology vendors have been working hard over the past decade to make things work together… it is up to court technology developers to use that capability to benefit the daily work of the judges and court staff.