State and local courts face unique institutional, regulatory and technological challenges in their efforts to modernize. The court environment today is one with growing caseloads and tight budgets. Security threats continue to evolve along with public expectations of quick, digital service. The most successful court modernization efforts that overcome these challenges include technology integrations with other justice partners and increased use of cloud-based technologies.
Courts can use cloud computing technologies to digitize and automate court processes, provide stakeholders with secure visibility into valuable court and justice data and ensure equitable access to justice. Here are five ways the cloud can help courts:
1. Supporting Collaboration
Successful modernization of civil and criminal justice systems depends on multi-agency partnerships. The cloud helps foster collaboration by making it easier for jurisdictions to securely integrate data from different systems.
Judges, for example, enjoy the realization that they don’t have to issue protective orders or warrants in-person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can pivot to an on-call model and provide better access to their partner agencies, like law enforcement. Cloud connectivity allows judges to get orders and warrants out quickly from home, instead of being bound to the in-office network.
2. Providing Scalability
It’s frustrating for a litigant or attorney to visit a court’s website and encounter slow page load times or be locked out of critical systems altogether. The cloud lets courts scale system capacity and computing power up or down depending on their needs, reducing the likelihood of performance-related issues. In the cloud, system reliability and uptime are increased and maintained.
This type of agility becomes even more important during crises such as hurricanes or the COVID-19 pandemic. While courts that rely on on-premises technologies often struggle to respond to events, courts in the cloud benefit from system redundancy for business continuity, as well as flexibility, to meet changing circumstances.
3. Stretching Limited Budgets
Moving to the cloud can reduce IT costs for legacy hardware systems and software licenses while giving courts access to the latest technology and security capabilities. Because cloud capabilities can be added incrementally, courts can take advantage of new features, functionality and innovations without replacing expensive, outdated systems all at once.
The cloud also can help courts evaluate the performance of initiatives such as drug courts and other diversion programs. With limited resources, state and local courts need access to reliable, near real-time information about whether the strategies they’re implementing are reducing interactions with the criminal justice system and making communities safer. Secure access to this data drives better decision-making.
4. Improving Experience and Equity
The cloud helps state and local courts deploy electronic filing and payments, digital signatures, online dispute resolution, virtual courtrooms and other innovations that reduce case backlogs, cut processing times and make interacting with the courts easier for constituents. Enabling remote operations also helps court staff reliably work from home.
Digital self-service tools, such as online dispute resolution, are becoming more important because more litigants are representing themselves. Digital tools that let all parties in a legal dispute easily access and file information can help balance fairness in the court process between litigants who have attorneys and those who cannot afford them or choose to represent themselves.
5. Meeting Unique Compliance Requirements
Cloud solutions adopted by courts and criminal justice agencies must meet specialized security and compliance requirements. It is critical for courts to choose cloud-based platforms and services that are built to comply with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) requirements for protecting sensitive law enforcement information. Using these cloud solutions can also simplify data management and compliance for state and local IT teams who often face resource constraints.
Cloud-based technologies offer multiple opportunities for improving internal court operations and improving user experience — from streamlining the administration of child support hearings, criminal trials and bankruptcy cases, to ensuring lawyers and pro se litigants have equal and timely access to information. These technologies enhance daily court operations and position courts to withstand future disruption by enabling new virtual processes and electronic services.
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the Connecticut Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Content Manager with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations as well as to create connections between governments and those they serve.