Monday, March 19, 2018

Court IT: we must, we can, but it’s not easy

A while ago, a judicial colleague published a column in one of the Dutch online papers. My colleague pointed to rising cost and longer duration of the digitalization of the courts. The digitalization was done in the Quality and Innovation Program. In Dutch the program is called Kwaliteit en Innovatie (KEI). The courts are, apparently, held ransom by the vendors. I reacted to his column in my monthly blog for one of the Dutch legal magazines. My blog went viral. Reason enough to give it some wider circulation by including it in here, in my Technology for Justice blog. For those of you who read Dutch: here is the original.

My question: if digitalizing turns out to be more difficult than expected, should we give it up?

Dear colleague,
Should I react to your column entitled “IT-vendors hold judiciary in a tight grip”? I wondered if I should.  Then, I read an earlier interview in which you wanted to abolish the redrawing of the judicial map, as well as the Council for the Judiciary. Fortunately, we judges enjoy freedom of speech. I am not going to debate the merits of your viewpoints. I had already decided not to publish this blog. But then, my IT team asked to please publish after all. The negative publicity made them very uncomfortable. So, therefore, I use this opportunity to list a few facts.

The parliamentary hearings on government IT-projects have made clear that an IT project can be considered a failure when the software that was developed is not implemented. Delay of rising costs are, in themselves, not a reason to consider a project a failure.
The first KEI-systems went into operation in 2015. Since April 2015, the system handled more than 20.000 asylum cases. Users in the courts are very happy with the system. Hearing planning is now a matter of hours instead of weeks. Since November 2015, bankruptcy supervisors can communicate with the courts in all types of bankruptcies. Well over 80% of bankruptcies are now handled this way. Professional supervisors have started to communicate digitally with all the courts in November 2017. Since September 2016, more than 650 (over 900 by mid-March, DR) commercial claims were filed with the new system, in two pilot courts. A few during a voluntary test phase, but most in the current compulsory filing pilot phase. Some cases have already been completed. One case, with a full hearing, was concluded within 7 weeks from filing. Users are not entirely happy with the system yet, and therefore the system has not been rolled out to all courts. That will happen later in 2018. So, the KEI software has been in use for a couple of years. 

The Council of State, in its 2014 advisory on the digitalization legislation, pointed out the risk of innovating procedure and digitalizing in a single operation. The Council also pointed out that earlier suggestions to drop the distinction between claims and requests and handle all cases on the basis of a request, were not followed, and that this complicates the digitalization.  De legislator did not follow this advisory. This has made designing the civil digital procedure more complex, hence more expensive than expected. There were a few other things that could not be foreseen in 2014. For example, article 113 of the Code of Civil Procedure that was added in a later phase of the legislative process. This article upended the design that we had already made and built, and sent us back to the drawing board. As a consequence,  we could only give lawyers access to the new systems, and no one else.
Digitalization needs to be kept simple. That is not a new insight. The Netherlands Accounting Chamber investigated government IT projects at the request of Parliament. The Chamber reported extensively in 2007. The dynamic of politics makes government IT-projects complex. Look at the Tax Office. That took a long time, but by now we all file our taxes on line.
Suppose: we know we have to keep things simple, but from the Accounting Chamber’s reports it is clear that complications will arise anyway. What do we do? Forget about digitalization? I cannot speak for the legislator or the Council for the Judiciary, but I can speak for myself, as the product owner of the civil procedure. I felt we should go ahead, and seize this opportunity that might not arise again for the next ten years. With every decision, we tried to apply the simplicity rule: can we make it simpler, is it necessary at all? It turned out we could not always do that. Legislation, the environment of bailiffs and lawyers, requirements and wishes from the users in the courts, technology itself, security needs, and a host of other factors kept us from applying the simplicity rule consistently. But some procedures have been digitalized, and they work. Civil procedural legislation changed so much that the courts need to put a lot of effort into implementation, and that is another reason why the new system has not been rolled out to all courts yet.

Dear colleague, we judges are the guardians of the existing legal order. Our work is looking back and deciding who need to get the blame for what went wrong. There is nothing wrong with that. But looking ahead and envisioning how to innovate does not come naturally to us. So, court innovation is difficult. If we are afraid to be blamed if something goes wrong, we will avoid innovation. Blaming in retrospect will not help innovation. But it must be done, because we are losing our market share to digital alternatives, and we do not do enough to give ordinary people access to justice.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

CTC2017 Day 3

On Day 3, I attended prof. Fred Lederer's wide-ranging and very interesting talk on legal aspects of Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. This summary of what I think were the highlights will not do it justice.
As algorithms are becoming such a determining factor, there was a suggestion to treat algorithms like corporations. 
The essence of data analytics is that we will find things we did not know were there. 
Good source for the Internet of Things: article by  Maciej Kranz in Harvard Business Review. 
Will existing law answer issues posed by the new technology? What is the "right" answer for the society involved?
What if the police want to pull over an autonomous self- driving car for speeding, while the human inside the car is not driving it? As a judge - professors are good at framing questioins, but judges need to answer them - my first question is: can a self-driving car speed? Or is it designed to obey all traffic rules including speed limits? I would say yes. 
And what about someone who hacks a self-driving car in order to cause an accident with it? Again, there is an unanswered quesstion behind this one: what constitutes the crime? Hacking? Causing the accident?
Pretrial detention algorithms are being used by judges more and more. It is also found to be problematic, for instance biased against African American defendants. My observation is that we know very little about the causality of the factors involved in recidivism. 

In the conference's Endnote, all big themes were addressed: 
What comes after digitization?
Artificial intelligence
Designing for the user
User testing for innovation - jury service on their phone
Translation technology
Agility, allowing for failure
Organizational ITmaturity
Next generatioin apps 
Cloud computing and surviving thehurricane. In one of the courts, justice never stopped in spite of the storm. 

New data uses - e-notifcations reduced Failure to Appear by 50-20%.

CTC2017 Day 2

Fro me, Day 2 was dedicated to innovative stuff for access to justice.
MJ Cartwright showed me a phone app that helps people deal with traffic violations, including the trial if it needs to come to that. Over lunch, I listened to the problems of a CIO from the Midwest, who felt there was so much that had to be done, although their systems were much better than people expected of the Midwest. And I had a wonderful conversation with Margaret Hagan, director of the Design Lab of the Stanford Law School. More about Margaret later. 

In the afternoon, I participated in a workshop on improving the user experience - lessons from law schools and innovation labs. 
NULawLab's Dan Jackson explained their approach. They developed RePresent, a game to teach people how to represent themselves. Their latest product is a game called Angry Tenants. 
Margaret Hagan introduced the 4 core strategies for improving the user experience: 
Conversational Artificial intelligence
Visual models
Coordinating services in the local community
An example of an AI tool: you talk about your crummy landlord on Twitter, and our AI can then send you an advice to go to your local service center for advice. Would that work? Or does that go too far?
Visual models - how effective are they? Different visual models work for different people. 
Christopher Griffin A2J Lab Harvard explained how they do randomized trial testing to test for effectiveness, for instance of tools like self-help materials, court user notices. In the case of court user notices, the default rate dropped by half after the text had been improved.
Another example was triageing lawyers for cases where they are going to make a difference. 

The rest of the afternoon we spent doing a design sprint in 1 hour. Usually, design sprints will take longer than that. It was a fun exercise, and people came up with very innovative solutions. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CTC2017 day one

 CTC2017 is under way in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is my 10th Court Technology Conference. What will I take away from this one?
The opening keynote, by Mark Lanterman, Chief Technology Officer at Computer Forensic Services, took us on live a tour of the Dark Web. Where to buy drugs, guns, stolen credit cards and personal information. Very interesting, somewhat gloomy start to the conference.

Next, the Utah courts, on the home turf, presented their plans for user centered case management. Workgroups in the courts listed what they wanted in improvements from the system. One example: the judicial workspace, a hearing based interface. Judges use it on the bench, it gives them access to the electronic case file and digitally sign orders. Cases can be linked automatically using a person's State Identity Number. MyCase is the interface for the court users. It is designed for the smart phone. An ODR negotiating tool is still in the design stage. Users can subscribe to notifications by email or sms messaging.3rd party interfaces to other government agencies are still in the planning stage. 

I managed to catch the tail end of Digital Design for the User Experience, by Shannon Salter and Margaret Hagan. Shannon is the Chair of the British Columbia Civil Resolutions Tribunal in Canada. Margaret Hagan directs the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School. User testing is key: to find testers, you will want to show up where people are already at. Test with the people you are designing for. It is a lot of work to find testers who are not part of the system, but you really need them. Second lesson: it is better to test on a small scale than not at all. Sorry I could not make it to the talk from the start.

David Harvey, Director of the New Zealand Centre for ICT law at the University of Auckland, presented the UK plan for the online courts. It aims to use technology in a disruptive but transformative way, and not mirror existing processes. The universal values of justice need to be observed. I already blogged about this plan in March 2015. Scroll down and you will find it. It will be interesting to see how this ambitious plan is going to materialize.

Singapore Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS)
This is an ambitious plan that has already materialized. It was introduced in May 2017. CJTS includes a prefiling assessment to ascertain how the problem can be resolved, and whether it needs to go to courts. Filing including choice of hearing date. The overall design of the procedure is similar to what we in the Netherlands have done for our digital procedures. The claiming party needs to use their Singpass for individuals, Compass for companies, or a CJTS pass for those who have neither. The responding party can choose negotiations, but only up to the hearing date. That gives the negotiation stage some effectiveness. And if negotiations result in an agreement to pay, the parties can apply for a consent order of tribunal.
Singapore is now testing online dispute resolution. They have studied working with artifical intelligence, those papers are on line at the courts web site.
Until now, respondents are not using the system much. The Singapore courts believe this may be because they are not yet familiar with the system.
Good idea I picked up here: the hearing officer, who ensures parties are ready for the hearing before they enter the courtroom. Staff whose work was taken over by the system are retrained for new tasks. 
At the end of a long day, this was a nice surprise: something that is very concrete and actually already works. I look forward to learning more about the effects of this innovative procedure. 

Friday, June 03, 2016


ODR 2016 showed they were taking digitalization seriously, with digital entry tickets and the conference program in a smartphone app. The 15th ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) Conference was held on May 23 and 24th in The Hague in the beautiful conference hall of the Peace Palace. There is a lot of experimenting going on ODR and there are lessons to be learned from those experiments. And because this time the meeting was in the Netherlands, it provided the Netherlands Justice sector with a great opportunity to show what we are doing: what has been realized, what we're working on, and our plans for the future. People were impressed: one participant exclaimed:”I have seen the future, and it is in Dutch!” Here a small collection of my souvenirs from the conference.

Rechtwijzer 2.0
This web site, Rechtwijzer uit elkaar, helps couples wanting to separate make a plan for the divorce and then also arrange for it. Until now, about 250 couples have done so in actual practice. User surveys show that they are satisfied. There is extensive interaction with users to further improve its effectiveness. This tool was developed by HiiL Innovating Justice and Modria dispute resolution systems and the Netherlands Legal Aid Board.  

DemanderJustice: the Uber of the legal world
DemanderJustice (DJ) is a French site where for about €40 people can try to settle a dispute. If this is unsuccessful, it supports bringing the case before a judge for another €70. This works for cases under €10,000, which can be brought to court without a lawyer. At the time of writing, the site had handled more than 250,000 cases. About half were settled; the claiming party won in more than 80% of the cases that were taken to court. The French Bar filed a complaint against DJ for unauthorized exercise of a protected profession. DJ was acquitted of the criminal charge in two instances; the complaints still continue.

Quality and Innovation: Tomorrow’s Judges
KEI  is the acronym for the Dutch courts’ Quality and Innovation program. Working digitally by itself is not enough: it requires a different kind of judge. Tomorrow’s judges will direct cases more actively. The judiciary must become more accessible and more understandable. Supervising judges, in charge of bankruptcy and guardianships, have large amounts of information at their disposal, so they are better able to act on the patterns they discern.

Digital proceedings: learning from experience
Experience with court digitalization, for instance with the eKantonrechter, has produced a lot of questions which are important for the further development of online dispute resolution. By far the most important question is how to involve the defending party in the procedure. Resolving a dispute amicably is often unsuccessful; the claiming party has no choice but to take the case to court. Digital access for the defending party turns out to be a difficult problem everywhere in Europe because digital IDs are not yet good enough to ascertain who enters the court portal and gets access to the case file.

Another question is, how courts can be better geared to the problems they were set up to resolve. 10 years ago, the legal viewpoint was that if someone had a problem, they would take it to a lawyer, and the lawyer would take it to court for you. That viewpoint was wrong. We now know a lot more about what people do they when they have a problem. Solving a problem may well look more like a network or a cloud than a linear chain of events. What does that mean for the administration of justice as a problem solver? And what to do with this observation from a legal aid insurer: our customers want to be more actively involved in the procedure. They are well-informed, the Internet provides them with oil the information they need and they want to be in control of what happens in the case.
I expect there will be more and more people who represent themselves in court; because they are better able to or because they cannot afford legal aid. The Dutch courts will start working on this issue very shortly.

Competition, consecutive or integration?
Participants in the conference could vote about the relationship between ODR and court procedures: Should they compete to improve quality, should ODR be limited to pretrial situations, or should ODR and court procedures be fully integrated? At the end of the conference participants overwhelmingly voted for complete integration. I think this shows we have managed to convince the participants that courts can actually realize digital proceedings.

Experience, rather than plans
The difficulty about things like online dispute resolution is that only users can see how they work. There are logins, and usually a fee to be paid. I had hoped to see a lot of online dispute resolution in actioin gecause I would like to learn to better gear our digital court procedurres to effective ODR. The conference had a series of five-minute pitches, some of which showed their product, but most did not. For the rest, speakers presented a lot of plans. Her Majesty's Online Court (HMOC), part of a large four-year plan in the UK, attracted a lot of attention. I blogged about it last year. Granted, for innovation one needs a plan. However, experience with plans show they almost never realize what they promise. And although they may have some partial results, in the planning phase there are few lessons to be learned from them. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CTC2015 Day 3

CTC's Day 3 brought the last installment in the track on tools for 21st century judges, but it was actualy about something else. The number of cases in the civil courts is going down, ODR numbers are growing. The US courts have thought about this, and come up with a report on possible solutions. And since technology affects everything, there is a lot of technology in the report.

The panel members were all asked to present their perspective, and prioritize the technology that they felt was most important. For the judge on the panel, it was case management; her insight was that case management is not document management, but actually bringing cases forward. Cases may not all be the same but they are like snowflakes: they are all white, and if there are a lot of them you need to get out of the way, they're just snow.
Push notifications were the favorite of the court manager. The courts CIO's priority was in litigation platforms. His point: courts need to become more user-centric. He referred to the Rechtwijzer 2.0, a site developed by the Dutch Legal Aid Board for couples who want to arrange their own divorce, which he found really cool.
For me, one key question remains: what is the reform going to achieve? Are the courts going to try and retain the segment of cases that is now increasingly handled by private ODR? Will they decide that the courts' core business is resolving disputes that do not have a predictable outcome, as Stephen Breyer, justice in the US Supreme Court once said?

In the endnote, the presenters observed how more and more judges are getting involved. Because my focus was on tools for 21st century judges, I had to miss out on a lot of interesting stuff, like social media and how courts use them and - my other favorite - access to justice. Fortunately, most of the presentations are on line, and sessions were streamed as well, all to be found on NCSC, with their limited means, have put together a very interesting, and for the courts, challenging conference. I look forward to CTC2017 in Salt Lake City. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day 2: apps, online forms and more judicial tools

Day 2 started with the Midnote. Tara Thomas talked about a lot of apps and their pros and cons. Apps for time saving, for project management, for calendars, conference calls, information sharing, cloud storage of documents. Members of the audience shared their experience with using some of them.
Collin County in Texas shared their own experience in going more paperless. Great insight: electronic document means no more copies, it is always the original. Court staff learned that putting two copies of a document in an electronic case file is unnecessary. 
Williamson County Court judge Bill Gravell explained how they use online forms for self-representing litigants to file their case. The court went from processing 45-50 cases per day to 100, handling time was reduced from 20 minutes to 10 minutes, and instead of 2 jury trials in a day they could now handle jury trials. As cases came to trial faster, defendants chose more often to plead guilty, and the court could drop the jury trial. Bill then introduced me to the people at Tyler Technologies who developed the forms. Tyler actually developed an engine that courts can use to generate their own forms, since they all have different requirements. The engine is a really useful tool. After lunch, I turned my attention to judicial tools again. Three IT staff from Missouri, Wisconsin and Utah shared their experience on developing tools for judges. They had all developed screens with panels presenting different kinds of information: a calendar, pending tasks, quick links to research tools and to Word. Wisconsin gave the judges a private, confidential view of their own statistics: cases pending, cases resolved, that sort of thing. At first, some judges did not want to see it and asked the IT staff to take the panel away. It stayed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CTC2015 opened on Tuesday morning with a keynote by Mark Britton, CEO of AVVO a platform for legal advice and services. His job was to shake the audience out of any complacency they may have had: the customers are dissatisfied, they are finding other ways to resolve their disputes, your monopoly is not going to help.
The image projected by the movie The Net is that of fear of having personal information on the Internet making you vulnerable to terrorist who want to use it to kill you. 
With Japanese cars and transistor radios for an analogy, he showed how technology disrupts from the consumer up: a new product, for new consumer market: Modria, building an ADR platform, document assembly services like legalzoom; how non-profit legal services are a viable possibility.
Note from the audience: Modria also built a support web site for couples wanting to have an amicable divorce for the Dutch Legal Aid Board.

The Judicial Tools Maturity Model was, for me, the most interesting finding of Day 1. It shows how a court or a judge can grow from paper-based to basic, then to intermediate to an advanced level of IT use. I expect we can use it to test all following presentations on tools for the 21st century judge by their maturity level in the model. From what I saw, the Minnesota courts are moving up in the charts, and the Missouri courts are doing it much more slowly.