Want Judges To Use ECM? – Don’t Skimp On Document Display Devices

In Disney’s Aladdin, Robin Williams, as the genie, gives this description of what it’s like to be a genie: “Enorrrrmous powers !!! ….Teeny, tiny living space.”   That, to me, is an almost perfect description of an iPhone. 

When I discuss what judges should want from a Paper-On-Demand Enterprise Content Management system, one requirement at the top of the list is lots of real estate.  You may be able to get Moby Dick on your iPhone; but who wants to read it that way?

I have heard from numerous judges that one major objection to using electronic documents is that they simply cannot adequately display and navigate within even one, much less multiple, documents on a standard computer screen. Granted, ten years ago that may well have been a problem difficult to surmount.  But today, this is about the about the same as if someone objected to driving motor vehicles because you can’t pull a beer wagon with a Volkswagen as well as with a team of Clydesdales. 

 I finally realized that many judges are unaware that there are now considerably more elegant, sophisticated, powerful and flexible display options.  Indeed, today’s display technology can – and should – provide document retrieval, navigation, reading and manipulation capabilities that are better than paper

So, Step One: Stop trying to imagine how a judge would use electronic court documents with a standard computer screen.  Instead, start thinking about what a judge needs.  Keep in mind that judges need to use documents in different places, for different purposes and at different times.  Below is a chart which sets forth on the one hand the kinds of document-based activities a judge has to perform, and on the other, where he/she may be when performing each activity.

As you step through each activity, consider how it is conducted using the paper-based, physical documents and files.  If a judge is on the bench and needs a file, how does that happen?  When a judge wants to look at multiple documents in chambers, does he/she typically spread them out or mark them for easy access; place them side by side; and so on?   Work through all the relevant activity/location/need cells of the chart.

Next, become educated on what types of display options are currently offered.  Large screens or dual screens are now available that can easily display multiple documents; yet have “footprints” (that is, take up space) as small or smaller than traditional monitors.  Furthermore, with touchscreen technology, judges can easily manipulate, annotate, tab and “cut and paste” documents using touch screens, pointers, mice or a combination.   Laptops or tablet technology can provide “on the go” access, which of course trades off “real estate” (screen area) for size.  

Be certain, in all cases, to clearly distinguish what works well for each need in each different environment.   A tablet is great for travel; but for regular research you want a large screen.  On the other hand, when travelling,, you can’t lug an over-size monitor.  However, you are also unlikely to tote a heavy briefcase of physical files.

While cost clearly must be considered, it should be the last consideration, not the first.  A careful court analysis for ECM should first identify the needs, the alternatives for meeting those needs, and business case (including both costs and benefits).  An ECM system that judges will not use, or will use only sparingly, will not return the same level of benefits as one that judges prefer to use instead of paper.  It is against that higher level of benefit, including financial, that the costs of adequate displays should be considered.

Experience shows that in well-designed court ECM implementations, the hard financial benefits (not to mention the many other benefits) far exceed the marginal costs of providing appropriate document display platforms to judges.

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