Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday September 24
This morning, a very interesting session on IT-supported self-help for self-representing litigants. What was still quite experimental two years ago is now becoming mainstream. The heart of it is the A2J author technology developed by Chicago-Kent Law School. It supports guiding users through question-and-answer sessions and it has reduced the time it takes for them to find something by more than half. The other place to go to on this topic is www.probono.net. It hosts support services for self-representing litigants, of which there are many right now, and expectations are that until 2013, even more people will be involved in lawsuits because of the economic crisis. www.nycourthelp.gov shows what the courts in New York State have done in the field of virtual self-help: on line forms that make parties think through their case, feed the case management system and generate a pleadings document, for eviction cases at first and now also for other frequently occurring cases.
Wednesday September 23
What is a good methodology for measuring judicial corruption? This was the question the Chief Justice of Iraq asked after my presentation on IT and Judicial Reform, this afternoon at CTC in Denver. Richard Van Duizend and Dan Hall of the National Center for State Courts and I presented on the role of IT in judicial reform in different parts of the world. NCSC has cooperated in the consortium that developed an international benchmarking system for court excellence. It is available on the Web at www.courtexcellence.com. Courts and court systems can evaluate themselves on a number of relevant areas, as a first step in an assessment and reform process. My own talk was a very brief overview of the conclusions of my dissertation. They concern the significance of court and case management systems for effective performance, and timely delivery in particular,, the role of the Internet in the courts’ shadow function as the guardian of the law, and on how to use IT as a means to reduce opportunities for corruption. Dan Hall, finally, gave an example of the courts in Minnesota here in the U.S. where they had used IT to reduce a need for staffing.
Actually, since the state courts are all losing funding because of the economic crisis, the theme of reducing staff by using IT runs through this conference. And although these is some advocacy for using the crisis for creative solutions, those solutions are few and far between. Incidentally, the answer to the Chief Justice’s question is that there are no accepted ways of measuring judicial corruption. There is the possibility of a public survey asking people about their perception of actual corruption, and there is the Transparency International Bribe Payers Index, but that does not target judges specifically. During question time, someone asked where she could buy my book. Not just yet, but ah, if only my publisher could hear this! I just realized I can now use my twitterpage @doryontour to announce publication, when it finally comes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday afternoon: a discussion with other judges sharing ideas about the most pressing problems with regard to IT. My colleagues are refreshingly honest. In Japan, scanning is problematic because character recognition is not accurate enough for Japanese writing. Somewhere in the US, a case management systems is being developed for a six-judge court. All six are allowed to keep their own individual way of registering cases. The system is getting very expensive and it is taking a long time to build, and so it is technically out of date before it is fully implemented. E-filing is not sufficiently standardized to allow attorneys to file with different courts. Case management systems need to be replaced because the functionality is no longer enough. But how to make sure to get the right replacement? Another court has set up a self-help center for self-representing litigants, or pro-ses as the are called here. And then there is the court in Texas that has recently received some IT toys but does not yet know what to do with them.
Tuesday September 22
CTC2009 started officially this morning. There was a special welcome for the chief justice of Iraq, who is here with a delegation. The keynote speech was delivered by Ari Shapiro of National Public Radio, mainly about how courts can ensure serious reporting about justice can be done without extreme effort in the part of the press. With examples of Twitter, Facebook and some blogs, notably http://www.scotusblog.com/ he demonstrated how courts can ensure accurate information about what goes on in their courts: announcing important opinions being handed down (in Europe we would call that the pronouncement of a court decision) on Twitter that those interested can subscribe to, with links to the original documents, would be very helpful, Shapiro said. He cited an example of crowdsourcing on http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/. He closed by quoting Chief Justice John Roberts who, during the first phase of the nominations for a new justice earlier this year, confided that a new justice “is like an arranged marriage, you find someone you don’t know very well on your doorstep, and you have to live with them for the rest of your life”. Ari Shapiro has a page on http://www.npr.org/.
On Monday September 21 in the afternoon, the Federal Court in Denver hosted a meeting on the use of technology in the courtroom, and what courts’needs are. Marcia Krieger, the judge presiding over the meeting, remarked how in her courtroom, all participants in a trial were more or less arranged in a circle, which makes for more cooperative, less adversarial attitudes. This court has not gone completely paperless yet, since files still go to the appeal court on paper. Also, the record is still produced by a live court reporter, and not by audio or video recording. Marcia has three screens on her bench: on displaying evidence: one displaying the court record as it is being entered, and one for managing proceedings. The court does use remote connectivity to include witnesses, lawyers and other who are in far away locations in the proceedings, by phone or by video. It also uses an electronic organizer developed by the southern district of Texas, that has merged access to case documents, notes, instant messaging to law clerks, transcript access (Marcia did not manage displaying it, however) and access to Westlaw. In the ensuing discussion, there was a plea for more bandwidth on the remote technology. Another issue that is becoming more prominent is that of jurors using I-phones and social networking like Twitter from the jury box, creating a risk of mistrial and loss of resources. A plea for standard technical assistance in the courtroom was heard as well, so the judge does not have to manage all the controls, and summon assistance from elsewhere if something does not work.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Coffee meeting with Susanne Hoogwater, who has her own firm in visualizing legal information. We met through LinkedIn, which is saying something about Web 2.0. We talked for nearly two hours, about her work and about mine and my research. Our common ground is accessible legal information. We agreed the potential of the Internet as identified by Richard Susskind: helping informal settlement by providing “golden nuggets of legal information” will apply mainly to people with at least some secondary education. Legal institutions will have to package their information in such a way that it is easily understood by those who have some secondary education. Putting the law on line is not going to help. Those with a really low level of education will still need someone to sort out their shoe boxes of papers, so to speak. We also agreed that confidence is an important component of the communication about legal information. In my research, I have scored web sites for effectiveness, and that includes whether the reader can be confident that, if they act as instructed, will get the result they are after. Thank you, Susanne, for a copy of your book Beeldtaal voor Juristen, about graphic models for making legal information more accessible, and for an inspiring morning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

We - well, I do - forget how quickly technological developments are changing the way we live. In 2001, with CTC in Baltimore, Wim and I did a camping tour along the East coast of the U.S. We read our email in the local public libraries, a great free service. Eight years later, we travel with our notebook computers and have free wifi in all motels. We still go camping, and then we just park near a motel for wifi service. Clearly, we do not make electronic payments over open wireless, but otherwise it is very handy. There will be free wifi at CTC in Denver too.
Wim keeps track of his photo sales, and I have composed my presentation for CTC while we were in Yellowstone National Park which does not provide any kind of connectivity whatsoever. But I sat in a lobby with a view of Old Faithful Geyser for a couple of hours and moved and pasted my slides. As I closed my notebook, Old Faithful gracefully erupted. Awesome.
We also bought a satellite navigation system (a tom-tom) to experiment with while driving. It was $ 129 at WalMart. And as things go, the function we use most is not the one it was designed for, but something else: that of keeping track of maximum speed. It shows you the maximum speed and beeps when you drive too fast. It also finds us hotels and restaurants. We will bring it home and download the European maps. However, we still have lots of paper maps and would not know how to travel without them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CTC

The 2009 Court Technology Conference will be held in Denver, Colorado September 22-24. Check out the program here.
I attended CTC for the first time in 1999, in Los Angeles, and have attended all of them (five in all) since then. They are organized by the National Center for State Courts in the U.S., and they are always an interesting mix of experience sharing, highlighting new issues and reactions to present-day problems.
This year's program focuses on keeping things going in difficult times, but it also has Ari Shapiro National Public Radio's justice expert in the opening keynote. There is always the election of the best court web site. I meet friends and colleagues at the special interest group for judges. Another of my favorite items is Fred Lederer's court technology lab.
My plan is to do a blog on the conference every day. My twitterpage @doryontour will announce the program items during the course of the day. So, keep coming back here, and also let me know what you think by sending comments.