Thursday, March 4, 2021

Never Waste a Good Crisis to Update your Court

The Freakonomics website has a page that discusses the quote in the title of this post.  It is obviously appropriate for the courts in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I have used it in another context, when a new case, document, or e-filing systems are being introduced into a court.  I explain below…



Court organizations, court rules, and the laws that govern procedure were created during a much different technological age.  Instead of paper, and the need to communicate verbally in-person, and hold people in physical jails and prisons, we now have a myriad of ways to communicate.  Therefore, I think it is wise to take time to both ask questions and design for both the old paper methods and the new electronic systems.  

Courts can largely do that because for case matters, we govern and control the court rules and laws that “structure” the communication.  We can even issue temporary rules in many instances to test ideas and later put that new approach into legislation.  Unfortunately, there are reports that courts havein some instances stopped their technology upgrades at just videoconferencing. 

Courts can do better. Now is the time to think about how to combine multiple digital tools to address the large backlog of cases.  Many of these cases are jury trials.  With the pandemic coming to an end, courts need to take advantage of online / video communications for hearings to expand their judicial resources.  In most courts that I work with there is the ability to appoint referees, judges pro tem, and hearing officers from members of the bar.  With the digital communication systems available, those members do not necessarily have to be local but could be anywhere in the state.   

Those new judges will need access to the case files, schedules, and evidence.  That can all be done online using Microsoft systems such as Teams or Google apps. Experienced “work from home” clerk's staff can be brought online, again not only locally, but from around the state.  Some of this staff can be assigned to support the remote judges.

One can also record the hearings and as needed, either temporarily adopt the recordings as the court record or, use those recordings with AI speech to text or remote transcriptionists. 

The online systems can be offered to public case parties to hear simpler cases.  I say offered in order to allow people to “opt-in” to hear their matters.

Just a side note, I had a call earlier today that offered online scheduling times in an email.  It was simple to use.  Check out Chili Piper here -  This is just one other way to provide the structured communication with the public parties.

All of this is possible with the current cloud-based software offerings (see this Forbes article for a discussion of cloud office systems:

I also want to emphasize that it is also a good time to get training on improving your court operations.  My colleagues at the NCSC Institute for Court Management have excellent online courses.  And using video conferencing, I have also earlier in the year used their instructors to teach over 70 judges and court staff on caseflow management.  For more see:

Last, there is currently news that possible stimulus funding for state and local governments could help to provide the funding to do these tech updates.  It is never a bad time to plan.  Therefore, I think it is time to put together your wish list/budget to meet the justice system's needs.  You never know?


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