Friday, April 11, 2014

A Brief Note about Case Numbers

The format and requirements for court case numbers is different in automated systems.  I will explain.


Recently, I had a conversation about court court case numbers and automated systems.  The recent tradition (around 30 years) is that the numbers and letters composing the case number should mean something.  For example, the case files in the photo from the court below shows an “end-tab” system with color coded numbers.  The colors of the tab labels correspond to the case number and may identify the year, court, case type, and sequential number or similar construct can be very useful.  This greatly assist in avoiding mis-filing because the colors will not appear in a regular pattern.  (Click here to see how this idea was similarly used for computer punch card decks in ancient times.)

But automated case and document management systems do not need color coding.  Instead the need is for case numbers to be both unique and efficient for fast and easy entry and retrieval. Uniqueness ideally would mean that there is only one court case number... ever thus avoiding confusion and data entry errors.

This means that the case number also does not need to be reset at the beginning of each year. This is often done to assist the court in producing management statistics or organizing cases or for the judge to know how old the case before them is. All of the data to address these needs already exists in the modern case management system database.  So the management data organized by court, division, case type, judge or whatever you wish to display can be more effectively done via a display dashboard designed for the needs of judges and administrators.  And if one is worried about "losing" a case due to age, the task approach as described in our CCMS series is a much better design in our opinion.

Further, the practice of embedding “dashes” or “slashes” between parts of the case number is an additional waste of time for anyone who is writing or typing it.  Multiply the number of dashes or slashes that everyone in the legal system, let alone the judiciary, and it would project to literally thousands of hours are that wasted each year creating these mark.  If there is a unique case number, I would argue that this is enough.  And in court databases that combine different courts, either a letter or two letter designation followed by the unique number is more than enough.  No slashes or dashes needed.

But one may argue; won’t the numbers get too long and therefore be an additional burden for data entry?  If this is the concern, then the system can be programmed to restricted the “search mask” to automatically insert the beginning part of the long case numbers, say from the most recent two years into the search box.  If one is retrieving cases that are older than that "normal" range, the mask can be overwritten. And many CCMS and document management systems now allow for saving of “favorite” cases.  This listing is yet another approach to alleviate problems with “excessive” data entry needs.

And last, I have been involved with several systems that have implemented a “check digit” as part of the number.  As defined in Wikipedia:
“A check digit is a form of redundancy check used for error detection on identification numbers”. .. “With a check digit, one can detect simple errors in the input of a series of characters (usually digits) such as a single mistyped digit or some permutations of two successive digits.”
Banks widely implement check digits in their systems.  I believe that courts should consider them as well.

1 comment:

  1. Jim thanks for posting this.