The Conversation: Tomorrow’s Courthouse Demands Investment & Commitment Today

Topics: Efficiency, Forum Magazine, Government, Justice Ecosystem: Technology, Legal Innovation, State Courthouses, Thomson Reuters

Stephen Rubley, managing director for Government at Thomson Reuters Legal, spoke with Mark Martin, chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, about planning, goals, technology and the relationships that matter for ensuring the effective administration of justice now and in the future.

While most courts face budgetary constraints amidst increasing caseloads, the evolution of courts and the future of access to justice rely on capital investments in court computer systems and infrastructure. Few jurists today have as strong of a grasp of the issues involved in planning for tomorrow’s courtrooms as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, Mark Martin.

STEPHEN RUBLEY: What are your goals as chief justice and how do you involve the right stakeholders in court administration?

MARK MARTIN: I decided prior to my installation as chief justice that I should have a tangible vision for what I want to accomplish in this role. As such, prior to assuming this office, I developed and promulgated my Administration of Justice Plan. This strategic planning document articulates my goals as the leader of North Carolina’s judicial branch and establishes metrics for measuring where we are now and accountability for where we would like to be in the future.

RUBLEY: How has the role of judges changed as court technology and systems have changed over the years?

MARTIN: When I became a judge in 1992, I did not have a laptop, and email was not used by the general public. Actors in all capacities in our legal system now demonstrate a great reliance on email, Internet platforms, and e-discovery procedures. None of these existed when I was practicing law. It is an entirely new paradigm predicated on the efficiency that technology applications bring to communication, adjudication and judicial administration.

RUBLEY: Courts today face a variety of issues, including budgetary constraints, increasing case volumes and a rise in pro se litigants. How has technology helped or perhaps hindered the courts in managing these issues?

MARTIN: When you review the literature around the country, you realize that governmental IT procurement misfires are much more commonplace than we would like to see. Judicial leaders have a duty to the public to put in the due diligence necessary to prevent these problems, especially in light of the limited funds available to courts. We cannot simply leave the new IT project to the IT department. To ensure a proper alignment between technology and court operations, court officials must share their needs with vendors, and purchasing decisions should be based on experimentation with the technology in the context where it will be used.

There are examples where technology has hindered the case management process or some aspect of court administration, but courts and their vendors are getting more sophisticated in evaluating the needs of court systems with respect to long-term IT contracts. This has reduced incidents of IT procurement failures, which are bad for all parties involved.

RUBLEY: Court technology was previously designed for court clerks and back-office processes. Can you envision the benefits of technology designed for more information sharing between all the constituents of the justice system?

MARTIN: I can absolutely see the benefits of increased information sharing through the use of technology. In North Carolina, our IT committee is trying to make sure that we are not missing key aspects of how the new system ties together in a way that works for internal and external stakeholders, including appellate judges, trial judges, court clerks and administrators, and consumers of our services — attorneys and the public.

Click here to read the full interview, which originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Forum magazine.