Key Takeaways from the 2023 Courts Technology Conference — Part 1
Posted on October 5, 2023 by Glenn Bischoff
Several MCP subject-matter experts attended the Court Technology Conference (CTC) held several weeks ago in Phoenix. The National Center for State Courts presents the conference annually, founded in 1971, to enhance court administration worldwide.
Key takeaways from CTC 2023 are as follows.
Avatars and chatbots are evolving impressively — Court systems have employed self-help websites, kiosks, and avatars for over a decade. Still, an educational session on the digital court transformation track demonstrated just how far they’ve come. The session focused on the SANDI (self-help assistant navigator for digital interactions) chatbot and “Clara,” a multilingual, interactive avatar contained in a courthouse kiosk. SANDI is being used by Miami-Dade Courts, while New Mexico Courts are using Clara, and presenters described some of the attributes of these solutions. Key takeaways from this session include:
- The user experience is improving:
- “Looks like me” avatars
- Text-to-speech and voice-command interactions
- Expanded multiple languages with contextual inflection
- Facial-detection kiosks
- Touchless kiosk interaction
- Full digital data integration with the court’s other applications
- Common user interface and code base across platforms (personal computer, phone, kiosk)
- The avatar and chatbot are proving valuable not only to self-represented litigants but also to attorneys and even law enforcement officers.
- Features include a well-structured dashboard and maintenance protocol to improve the avatar and chatbot continually.
MCP's colleague, Robert Adelardi, chief information officer for Florida’s 11th district (which serves Miami-Dade County), presented metrics that underscored the value of such solutions, e.g., increased services provided and reduced demands on staff.
This is a shining example of digital court transformation.
Use of AI and RPA in the judiciary: a clerk’s perspective — In another educational session, Parik Chokshi, circuit court clerk, comptroller, and director of enterprise applications for Palm Beach County, Florida, explored the integration of "Narrow artificial intelligence (AI)" and robotic process automation (RPA) in court systems. The former is programmed to perform specific tasks, i.e., it lacks cognitive abilities and focuses on pattern-based automation. The latter offers the promise of releasing personnel from mundane, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on those that have greater value, for example, chatbots that serve as virtual counter clerks.
Through strategic implementation between 2016 and 2020, Palm Beach County improved the efficiency of its docketing system by using narrow AI to classify and extract data and by employing RPA for rule-based processes. The results include a four-fold increase in electronic filing processing speeds and reduced errors. Plans entail further automation of court processes, emphasizing the importance of understanding current workflows, assessing cost-effectiveness, and ensuring the presence of identifiable patterns for AI success.
What makes this initiative particularly interesting is the innovative integration of "Narrow AI" and RPA to transform traditional court systems, making them more efficient and error-free. By leveraging AI for pattern-based automation, Palm Beach County achieved a four-fold increase in electronic filing processing speeds, leading to faster service delivery and reduced labor costs. Additionally, incorporating RPA ensures consistent, round-the-clock, rule-based processing, enhancing reliability and precision.
Other clerks and comptrollers should care about this because adopting such technology-driven approaches can enhance their office's productivity significantly, reduce operational costs, and improve service quality, all while setting new benchmarks for modernizing administrative processes in the legal domain. Palm Beach's return on investment from this venture has been an astonishing $2.5 million annually. Their ability to process cases 24 x 7 has resulted in a notable increase in constituency satisfaction, further highlighting the tangible benefits of such digital transformations.
AI and RPA in the judiciary: a CTO’s perspective — Noel Chessman, court technology officer (CTO) for the 15th Judicial Court for Florida, addressed the Florida Supreme Court's mandate for differentiated case management in an educational session. He demonstrated how artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA) can revolutionize court processes. For example, bots can be leveraged to automate date calculations and event-details sourcing, while a fluid template system can be used to facilitate immediate updates. The solution offers features like automated signatures for judges, manual review mechanisms, and automated envelope creation for self-litigants. Concerning system development, building in-house is more costly initially but allows rapid adaptations compared with externally managed systems.
Most intriguing about this presentation was its forward-looking approach to integrating AI and RPA into the judicial system, offering a glimpse of the future of court processes by highlighting the transformative power of these technologies. AI and RPA promise to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and adaptability by automating the repetitive tasks found in court processes. This futuristic approach offers judges a streamlined and cost-effective way to manage cases, emphasizing the importance of embracing digital solutions in modern courts.
Using AI requires ethical behaviors — The opening keynote, delivered by Dr. Moira Gunn, a technology journalist and host of the Tech Nation podcast, focused on the importance of ensuring that ethical behaviors are implemented to ensure that artificial intelligence (AI)-generated information submitted to courts are recognized as such within the courts. Practical suggestions included:
- Implement technologies like those teachers use, e.g., Turnitin, an AI-driven writing-detection solution designed to ensure academic integrity.
- Pull information from reputable sources, hold back some information, and then test results from AI against the held-back information.
- Keep humans in the process to critically review AI results — remember that AI is intended to supplement human intelligence, not replace it
A session explored leveraging AI and machine learning in the justice sector, focusing on perceived strengths and weaknesses and potential uses and risks.
Potential issues include:
- No requirement exists for accuracy in machine learning
- AI is prone to errors and cannot understand why AI makes its decisions (this is called the “black box” problem). “Explainable AI” is in development
- AI learning requires an adequate supply of accurate data; data from the general internet cannot be used
- A built-in bias is present in AI based on initial programming
- No ability exists to identify AI-generated documents and/or evidence, so there is potential for deep evidence fakes
- If you cannot believe what you see, it might be better to rely only on human testimony; however, judging human testimony accurately is fraught with issues as well
Potential opportunities include:
- Rule compliance
- Docket control
- Small claims matters
- Transcript creation — which is possibly the most immediate and impactful opportunity
- Technology generally gets better over time while human decision-making remains static. Humans make errors, too, and there is some evidence in the legal world that AI may make fewer errors. Gunn provided an example of law students and AI reviewing non-disclosure agreements. AI matched the best student and beat all other students’ results.
- Training is needed for judges and court administration to understand AI’s advantages and disadvantages
- Gunn warned that AI can use social media to make inferences regarding how a judge will rule; a wise judge would limit exposure on social media
- At least one judge is providing notice to attorneys that they must disclose whether AI is being used to generate documents and must ensure that a human reviews such documents.
Remote proceedings and services require thoughtful planning — In one educational session, speakers pointed out that measures developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g., remote proceedings and services, were driven by an emergency. In the current environment, decisions need to be thoughtful and should be driven by policy going forward. Discussed were satisfaction surveys concerning remote hearings taken by hearing participants in Minnesota and Arizona — the results were that three of four want more remote hearings. They saw benefits regarding time/travel, childcare, increased court access, and appearance rates.
The speakers view this survey as a big win because courts exist to serve the public, and it is important to understand their needs and continually evaluate processes. What was learned through the surveys was that it would be a mistake to return to a pre-pandemic state of proceedings. Remote hearings should be offered, especially for unrepresented litigants.
However, considerations and even a few issues pertaining to remote hearing services exist, including the following:
- Providing remote court services is a process problem, not a technology problem
- Technology is no longer just the idea of calendaring — it’s making substantive decisions in the legal system
- It’s critical to get input from litigants, especially self-represented litigants
- Technology investment has become a strategic imperative for the courts
- Courts need more staffing and resources to be prepared for the future
Speakers offered the following advice to court systems contemplating remote hearings and services:
- Expand and encourage virtual proceedings
- Improve the functioning of virtual proceedings
- Expand alternatives for court users to access virtual proceedings
- Improve accessibility
- Improve systems for communicating with users
- Ensure public access to virtual proceedings
- Expand electronic filing
- Improve training and technical support for users
- Create a permanent working group of stakeholders for future needs
Ensuing blogs will offer additional takeaways from CTC 2023.