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Recommendations to expand e-filing and remote court operations

The Marble Team

Recommendations to expand e-filing and remote court operations

Marble
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Expanding E-Filing and Enhancing Remote Courts Operations: One Commission’s Quest to Continue Remote Court Trend

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruptions to legal systems across the country and has increased the uptake in the use of technology and the trend for remote court operations. Even though the pandemic set this trend in motion, the accelerated adoption and integration of new technologies will likely remain well past the end of the COVID-19 era. 

Many would argue that these changes are long overdue  and that there needs to be more innovation in both court operations and in general legal services.

The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts recently released two reports containing proposals to expand the use of e-filing and recommendations for enhancing remote court operations for the duration of the pandemic and beyond. The recommendations are following trends being mirrored across the country.

 Expanding the use of e-filing

The Chief Administrative Judge is currently able to institute e-filing in all cases but only on a voluntary basis. Instituting mandatory e-filing is only possible in some classes of cases, and for those that are excluded, the Judge must obtain permission through an act of the Legislature.

Consequently, the Structural Innovations Working Group’s report recommends that the law be amended so that the Chief Administrative Judge can institute e-filing in all cases. This will mean they can implement voluntary or mandatory e-filing in all cases upon the approval of the local county clerk and other legal stakeholders, as appropriate. It was also recommended that e-filing be instituted in courts of criminal jurisdiction and civil courts of lesser jurisdiction.

Recommendations for improving the transition to remote court operations

Technology issues hampered the shift to remote operations necessitated by COVID-19. To fix this, the Commission’s Technology Working Group designed and conducted a survey of over 1,900 judges and legal workers to identify the main problems. Their responses and aggregated data were analyzed, resulting in a series of recommendations for the New York Unified Court System (UCS).

The use of personal mobile devices

The survey revealed that too many of the respondents used personal devices, such as laptops, tablets and cell phones, to conduct court business. It found that only 50% of respondents used a UCS-issued mobile device for legal work. Furthermore, the data showed 42% of respondents typically used their personal devices for remote court work. The reason for this is likely due to fewer UCS Mobile Devices being distributed to Court Attorneys. 

The researchers recommended that UCS-issued Mobile Devices be issued to all judges and court attorneys. These devices should be a requirement to work remotely, effectively, and securely. The use of personal devices for court business should be limited as they can be hacked, are less secure, and are not easily updated or patched by UCS.

 Scanning functionality and shifting to email to reduce faxes and paper

To work more efficiently when working remotely, software and hardware should replace the use of paper. The survey revealed that only 62% of judges could scan documents at home, and 83% had a printer.

It was recommended that for remote judging to be effective, all court parts should be issued with devices that have scanning capability and have access to a printer if needed. The survey found that 67% of respondents still used faxes to communicate with attorneys, urging an end to this practice in favor of more modern substitutes. Instead of outdated communication methods like faxes, email should be used by all judges and legal staff. To facilitate this and ensure efficiency, all court parts would need an email address that is frequently monitored by a court attorney.

 Training on the efficient and secure use of mobile devices and legal platforms

The researchers stressed the need for the Court System’s Division of Technology to develop training for all court system personnel. Those working in the court system must know how to use their devices efficiently and securely. They will also need to understand how to work with case and data management systems and platforms that may be implemented by the legal system.

The COVID 19 pandemic has forced a rapid change in the way the courts and the legal system operate. There has been an acceleration in the remote court trend, and it is likely to be a permanent change. There should be a universal use of the technologies and remote options available. These innovations need to be implemented in both the court systems and in the broader legal services sector. While this tech takeover is sudden, the courts system must keep pace – not only with the pandemic-induced novelties, but also with long-overdue adoption of 21st century trends. 

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The Marble Team