Tealeaves from eCourts 2022
Posted on December 15, 2022 by Shay Cleary
Last week we attended eCourts 2022, a biennial conference that focuses on the technology needs of court systems and the personnel who work for them. Several trends quickly became apparent to us.
Hybrid Hearings on the Rise
One concerns hybrid hearings. Something of a novelty just a couple of years ago, hybrid hearings represent a fast-growing approach to court proceedings that benefits prosecutors, defense counsel, witnesses, and experts whose testimony is required. (A previous blog provides details regarding these benefits.) The hybrid-hearing concept — which involves proceedings conducted in a courtroom while one or more participants are engaged remotely — was initially fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented many people from traveling to and working within courthouses. But now the benefits of such an approach are clear, and every court system from coast to coast seemingly is working on figuring out how to take advantage of this opportunity long term and ensure that everyone has the technical capability to attend hearings remotely, regardless of where the hearing takes place.
New Ideas to Resolve Today’s Never-Ending Staffing Challenge
Another trend concerns staffing, which is a tremendous challenge across the public sector right now. While this challenge seems to be afflicting information technology specialists predominantly, court systems too are feeling the pain. Lower staffing levels and the presence of less-experienced personnel may lead to longer case-processing times and reduced customer service. Consequently, many court systems are turning to automation to deal with staffing issues, e.g., chatbots that serve as virtual counter clerks, robotic process automation (RPA) to manage basic repetitive data entry — which allows court administrative personnel to focus on tasks that have greater value — and systems that automatically push out communications such as text messages to relevant parties and litigants.
The Aftermath of Digitization Is All about Data
Yet another trend centers on the aftermath of a previous trend, i.e., the migration from paper filing systems to digital systems. Digitization provides tremendous benefits, e.g., streamlined storage and retrieval, fewer human errors, fewer lost files/documents, confidentiality, and the transformation of information into data that can be leveraged. Most court systems have completed their digital migrations, so attention is now turning toward leveraging the tremendous amount of data generated by court systems, which has increased exponentially over the last decade with no signs of slowing down.
Enhanced data governance is emerging as a big part of the solution. On a high level, data governance means having an essential organizational focus on data and how it can be used to improve outcomes. Specifically, it is a framework that can be used to develop short-term and long-term strategies for collecting, sharing, using and disposing of data. (A previous blog provides more insights regarding data governance.) If a court system still needs to have a data-governance team in place, it should form one as soon as possible. Once constituted, such a team should begin to investigate existing standards and best practices that could be leveraged — a good place to start is the National Open Court Data Standards (NODS), which is an initiative of the National Center for State Courts and a discussion topic at the eCourts conference.
Cybersecurity Is Rising as a Priority Among IT Leaders
Finally, no trends blog would be complete without a few words about cybersecurity. This is becoming a much bigger problem for public-sector organizations, including court systems, which increasingly are being targeted by cyberattackers who are clever, persistent, motivated, and using artificial intelligence and big data to improve their attacks. Cybersecurity insurance, which protects organizations from financial liability stemming from a cyberattack, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find in today’s environment.
Over the last couple of years, multiple state court systems have been victimized by cyberattacks. In one instance, the court system reportedly couldn’t access the internet for a month or connect to the state’s executive branch for four months. One aspect that isn’t getting enough attention in the courts’ ecosystem right now is the tremendous amount of information that is floating around the dark web, i.e., areas on the internet that are masked from the general public. The dark web is where bad actors conduct all sorts of nefarious activities — these include cyberattackers who buy and sell information that can be used not only to breach networks and systems but also for extortion, including blackmail. Recently we conducted a few dark web scans for clients and uncovered a disturbing number of personnel usernames and passwords. If you don’t already have a policy to change passwords regularly or are not utilizing multifactor authentication, put these tactics at the top of your to-do list.
Future blogs will dive deeper into all of these trends, so stay tuned. In the meantime, MCP’s 200-plus subject-matter experts are available to help your organization develop strategies for addressing all of them and more, so please reach out.
Shay Cleary is an MCP senior project manager. Email him at ShayCleary@MissionCriticalPartners.com.
Karyn Henry, J.D., is an MCP communications consultant. Email her at KarynHenry@MissionCriticalPartners.com.