“People don’t typically associate Arkansas with the cutting edge,” explains Daron Frederick, Network Administrator for the Arkansas Supreme Court. “That’s why it’s such a pleasure to have the U.S. Supreme Court looking to us for ideas about the unique and innovative ways we are implementing technology.”
Although both Arkansas’ supreme court and court of appeals have recently begun broadcasting—and archiving—live oral arguments on their Website, it is the courts’ use of enterprise content management (ECM) technology that has caught the Supreme Court’s eye.
“We’d had a document imaging system in place for several years, but it hadn’t been used much,” says Frederick. “Only a few techs even knew how to access it, and the search and retrieval capability for records wasn’t particularly useful. We had to ask ourselves, ‘Why scan anything if you can’t use the system?’”
He continues, “Our principal selection criteria for an ECM solution included the ability to manage content, automate processes, enable easy access to records and raise visibility for the legal community and the public.”
He notes that, ultimately, it was the unlimited servers included with Laserfiche Rio that won over the courts’ IT Department. “Both courts issue opinions of high interest that are heavily accessed, so we wanted to make sure we had failovers and test servers in place to accommodate that.”
Laserfiche Enables Electronic Opinions
In 2009, Arkansas became the first state to establish electronic reporting as the official medium for appellate court opinions. Substantial cost savings resulting from the transition provided the opportunity to implement Laserfiche.
“Before that, the appellate court opinions had always been officially reported in bound volumes,” says Frederick. “However, the volumes were produced and distributed approximately four times a year, which meant there was significant lag time between issuance of an opinion and its appearance in its official format.”
With declining subscription rates, higher production costs and advancing technology, the court determined that its current method of publication was no longer acceptable. “Although court systems in general have been slow to enter the digital age, we have to remember that we work for the public, and they’re used to finding information quickly on the Internet,” explains Frederick.
“One of the driving forces that led to the implementation of Laserfiche was to provide the official version of the opinions to everyone free of cost. The substantial savings realized by terminating the bound volume method was also a considerable advantage,” he says.
Using Laserfiche WebLink, a Web portal that provides instant, read-only access to documents over the Internet, the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals publish their latest opinions in PDF format on their Website.
“Most court records and paper copies of opinions are retained indefinitely,” notes Frederick. “In addition, we are required by statute to keep three copies of each bound volume; the final published volume count was 375 when we made the transition. From that standpoint, the storage of electronic records is far more efficient.”
In terms of search and retrieval, “metadata is a gift,” Frederick says. The Reporter of Decisions established the courts’ file structure, templates and fields, which allow anyone to access the opinions using one or more of the following criteria:
- Order number.
- Session term.
Current Integrations, Future Plans
After enabling live video streaming by implementing a Granicus software solution, the court integrated it with Laserfiche to enable the public and legal community to access archived video footage along with a copy of the opinion tied to the case in question. “We’ve made great efforts to become more transparent,” says Frederick. “By integrating Granicus with Laserfiche, we’ve created a comprehensive digital public record that’s accessible to anyone over the Web.”
The court is currently working on integrating Laserfiche with its court management system (CMS) so that court personnel can access documents stored in Laserfiche when they’re viewing a particular case in the CMS.
Although the courts haven’t yet taken full advantage of Laserfiche Workflow, a business process management tool included with Laserfiche Rio, they may use Workflow to route drafts of their opinions to:
- The deciding panel (court of appeals, typically three judges) for review and annotations.
- The Reporter of Decisions for editing, publication and retention.
“Flow is a big buzzword right now, so knowing that we can use Laserfiche to automate more of our processes presents tremendous possibilities,” says Frederick.
Change Management Methodology for Curing “Parchment Disorder”
“One thing I’ve noticed after working in IT across a variety of industries is that the public sector is a little more cautious when it comes to adopting new technology,” says Frederick. “Some people still get comfort in being able to touch a piece of paper, so educating and training everyone on the value of Laserfiche has been interesting.”
In terms of change management, Frederick’s philosophy is that history always denotes the future. “As we were moving to electronic publication, we focused on the input from the Reporter of Decisions and the parameters set by the supreme court. Full integration would have been more easily put in place had we also gotten input from the court about the opinion writing process upfront.”
As Frederick and his team prepare to use Laserfiche to enable attorneys to e-file briefs and other documents that make up the appellate court record, they are training the judges, judicial clerks and administrative assistants first. “The better we understand what each court needs, the more successful the transition will be,” he says.
Frederick explains that e-filing will eliminate the need for lawyers to bring 16 copies of their briefs to court. More importantly, it will allow both courts to quickly find specific pieces of information contained within those briefs, thanks to chapter and marker breaks within electronic briefs, as well as Laserfiche’s sophisticated search capabilities.
“Digitizing will lower our costs and increase our clearance rates,” says Frederick. “Training people ahead of time is a key factor for recognizing the value that Laserfiche has to offer.”