Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. When it comes to courts considering which “bite” to take first when moving to E-Filing systems, many choices present themselves. Each choice has plusses and minuses; and different courts have done it different ways, proving that there is no single path to success. Today I want to discuss some of the reasons a court might want to consider starting with what might seem like a big bite: Criminal.
Everyone who has ever raised a teenager recognizes the phrase that begins with “Mom, where is my [fill in the blank]?” And Mom is expected to know exactly where it is; and be able to produce it instantly.
Courts often feel they are playing the “Mom” role in the Criminal Justice “family”. They get the “stuff” from all directions – fingerprint documentation from booking agencies; custody and scheduling documents from release offices; transport requests and notifications from jails; pleadings from prosecutors and defense attorneys. And just like Mom, the court is expected to take care of it. Eventually, like Mom, the court may be inclined to put its foot down and insist that the “kids” hang their stuff up themselves. Welcome to E-Filing.
In the non-criminal area, there are a myriad of different participants; and in many instances there is no way to know before hand who will be involved. Moreover, the participants themselves may only deal with the particular court one time; or they may deal with multiple courts, or both. This diversity can be managed through a solid E-Filing system with the appropriate capabilities; but there is no getting around the fact that the participants are diverse. It is a different challenge for “Mom” to deal with all the occasional visitors.
The criminal justice community, though, is mainly the family. Generally most of the interaction is with the same set of prosecutors, release offices, jails, indigent defense providers, community corrections, and so on. This situation makes the criminal area an attractive candidate for E-Filing implementation. Since the participants are known to “Mom”, she can focus her powers of persuasion to involve them in planning, training, and implementation. Moreover, a huge part of criminal case processing is highly standardized already.
If the court has already implemented ECM, two other factors militate toward a compelling case for criminal case E-Filing.
First, one of the major up-front challenges in E-Filing preparation is identification of the incoming documents – what they are, where they come from, what to do with them. Incoming document types will have already been identified and attached to workflow as part of the ECM implementation.
Second, the close business ties, together with a great degree of political and funding overlap, put the rest of the “family” in a good position to share the overall costs with the court. For those with no enterprise content management (ECM) or workflow in place, it represents an opportunity to leverage the infrastructure investment the court has already made to implement their own. Likewise, extending E-Filing “back”, into the siblings’ operations, should receive serious consideration. For example, law enforcement could “E-File” with the prosecutor, who E-Files with the court.
One of the lessons courts have learned is that that E-Filing implementation success is greatly enhanced by making E-Filing mandatory. In many instances, courts find themselves with somewhat more “parental” leverage with their close criminal justice system partners, thereby making universal E-Filing easier to achieve.
All of this would make “Mom’s” life a lot easier. And, the “kids” might find they actually like living in cleaner rooms for a change.