Courts' Rapid Innovation
January 21, 2021 by
The events of 2020 — the pandemic, civil unrest, and natural disasters — have quickly accelerated court innovation by a decade. “Innovation is no longer a dream, but a requirement,” noted Bruce Graham, senior strategy advisor, Tyler Technologies. Graham spoke at the recent eCourts 2020 conference on how to harness this pace of transformation in court operations, and how courts across the country can learn from their peers who were best prepared to handle rapid change.
Pandemic Impact in Numbers
As all our lives changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts, too went from bustling entrances, lines at counters, and sidebars in and outside of courtrooms to closed buildings and empty hallways.
In surveying Tyler clients, Graham noted in his presentation that court systems both large and small continue to face pandemic-related impacts, such as:
- Case filing volume 10% below pre-pandemic norms
- Evictions 60% below normal patterns, signaling a rising case backlog
- Traffic cases down 40% with budget impact for jurisdictions that rely on citations as a funding source
- Divorce cases trending 15% higher, placing pressure on traditional processes
The decades-long movement from paper processes to digital operations certainly helped to enable a quick pivot to remote operations. Electronic functionality for courts also remains necessary to handle challenges as well as create opportunity in the days ahead. This specifically includes:
- Digital case files
- Online access to court documents and case files
- Self-service portals
- Digital processes
- Electronic courthouse
Courts that implemented some of these innovations prior to the pandemic were better able to handle the switch to virtual operations and service. They also serve as instructive examples for courts looking to successfully navigate the road ahead.
The following courts implemented electronic filing, online dispute resolution, and cloud operations to be proactively prepared for rapid change.
In 2017, Oregon implemented electronic forms to coincide with the Family Abuse Prevention Act. In September 2020, the court enabled electronic filing integration to continue urgent matters remotely and with little interruption thanks to the existing technology. With case volumes remaining steady, 80% of petitions were filed electronically in September and October 2020, for example.
In Clark County, the 8th Judicial District Court went live with online dispute resolution (ODR) in 2018, which provided the processes and technology to transition to remote work without a hiccup at the onset of COVID-19. Several months later, the court is still seeing more than 25% of cases resolved party-to-party and removed from the hearing calendar, with another 60% reaching partial agreements online, thereby greatly reducing time spent in in-person mediation appointments.
Nueces County’s transition to the cloud freed staff from cumbersome manual upkeep of more than 20 physical servers. The move to the cloud enhanced data management and security, as the cloud environment maintains industry standard security practices. A benefit in difficult budget environments continues to be a reduction in ongoing technology costs.
Graham noted that Tyler clients ranked the following items as the top three pandemic-driven changes likely to remain as a permanent component of routine operations:
- Alternatives to in-court proceedings, such as video hearings
- Paperless/digital processes with parties and participants
- Paperless/digital processes with justice partners
These digital transformations hold the promise of increased access to justice as well as more fair and equitable processes. They can be applied to justice processes, for example by digitizing the warrant process, or using case resolution tools to facilitate online traffic ticket payment. Internally, such tech solutions can surface insight for more informed decisions, including the ability for court managers to predict and manage the scope of post-pandemic case backlogs.