SALT LAKE CITY — The Court Technology Conference 2017 (CTC 2017), produced by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), attracted more than 1,000 participants to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City last week.
With more than 700 attendees and over 300 exhibit staff from 87 vendors, CTC 2017 was smaller than NCSC’s previous e-Courts 2016 event held in Las Vegas, many conference participants observed. No matter the venue, CTC 2017 was quick to put its own form of “fear and loathing” into conference participants.
Mary McQueen, president of the NCSC, impressed upon the audience that if courts don’t soon change direction, they will arrive at their destination: obsolete and irrelevant to a modern workforce and court users, who want more online services. McQueen’s opening statement lead me directly to the educational session on Courts Disrupted. There, I took away from the presenters — Bryant Baehr, Chief Information Officer at Oregon Judicial Branch, and David Slayton, administrative director of Texas Office of Court Administration — the fact that technology and innovation can disrupt courts but can be a key to providing access to courts and justice.
Technology is disrupting courts with the increased use of big data analytics and intelligent automation in consumer applications and enterprise computing, and with competition from online dispute resolution. Other technology disrupters were cyber-attacks — testified to by keynote presenter Mark Lanterman, Chief Technology Officer of Computer Forensics Services — and courts’ ability to handle digital evidence from the likes of smartphones and video recordings. Seth W. Stoughton, assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, detailed the opportunities and challenges of body-worn cameras in a keynote address that provided sobering notes on the practical limitations of such body-cam recordings.
Mary McQueen, president of the NCSC, impressed upon the audience that if courts don’t soon change direction, they will arrive at their destination: obsolete and irrelevant to a modern workforce and court users, who want more online services.
Baehr and Slayton said the changes needed in courts to address technology disruptors include the ability to detect and monitor change in internal and external industries, the capacity to make data-driven decisions in response to observed market change, and the capability to act quickly on decisions — criteria more suited to a start-up company rather than a court. Courts can, however, change their ways and nurture a “can do” mindset, allow and learn from failures, challenge assumptions and historical practices, and facilitate innovation to become more user-centric.
Courts also can become user-centric by creating adequate signage and video guides, by installing video monitors and kiosks, and by developing apps and digital workspaces that use common consumer platforms, such as Office 365 and Google Apps, and support mobile devices.
Other takeaways from CTC 2017 included how courts can collect and analyze data to improve services and set policies, and use advanced technology to modernize and digitize processes. Kathryn Holt, senior court research analyst at NCSC, and Nanci Thaemert, senior manager of the Court Services for Children and Families at the Idaho Supreme Court, presented the session From Crisis to Control: Using Data to Manage Conservatorship Cases. The session showed how data on conservatorship and guardianship cases in Idaho and Minnesota are used to improve court management and oversight of those cases as well as to predict fraud for judicial intervention.
On advanced technology, Henry Sal, president of Computing System Innovations, showed attendees of the session Artificial Intelligence and Lights Out Court Document Processing how AI can automate court-document processing, validate filings and engage automatic data entry using software bots.
Also, the “Court Application Component Model,” developed by the Joint Technology Committee, was promoted in two sessions as a modern-day approach to designing and implementing modular components to make up or expand a court management system (CMS). A CMS supplies core electronic information in litigation, such as cases, participants, scheduling, accounting and documents, but can be expensive and difficult to manage.
Unfortunately, it is also difficult to extend a CMS to have it embrace new technologies that could more quickly change courts’ path away from obsolescence and irrelevance.