Drupal for Courts

A group of legal informatics researchers, of which I’m one, is currently trying to identify courts that use the Drupal open-source content management system for their Websites or other information systems.

So far, we have identified just one court Website that uses Drupal: the emergency preparedness site of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

If you know of other uses of Drupal by courts, in the U.S. or in any other jurisdiction, we would be most grateful if you would please identify them in the comments.

Interest in Drupal in connection with law-related Websites has grown in recent months in the wake of the U.S. Government’s decision to use Drupal for a number of Executive Branch Websites, including the White House, and a number of sites hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Legal information systems administrators on the TEKNOIDS listserv recently identified the following potential benefits of using Drupal for court information systems:

  • Because Drupal is open source and free of charge, use of Drupal:
    • entails lower cost;
    • gives one access to a depth of community support, via a large and growing community of developers;
    • gives one the option to make use of professional support, but at a lower cost than support for proprietary systems;
    • offers access to the code; and
    • offers the ability to freely make modifications.
  • As a content management system, Drupal facilitates a higher quality of Web publishing with greater functionality than does a collection of inert HTML pages.
  • Drupal is more secure than most other Website platforms.
  • Drupal sites can be of any size, and can be designed for scale.
  • Drupal sites can be hosted in the cloud. They do not require that a court or court system maintain its own servers.
  • Drupal accords with courts’ character as communities:
    • Drupal provides tools for exchanging information easily and quickly between personnel of the same court or court system.
    • Drupal creates a culture in which personnel from different courts or court systems can share expertise.
  • Drupal enables the creation of a uniform look and feel for all court Websites within a given system, while also allowing individual courts to have custom applications and remain part of their larger community:
    • Drupal allows all of the courts within a given system to share information, while enabling each individual court to maintain a unique web presence.
  • Drupal provides excellent tools for managing users and their access to data on the system:
    • Drupal allows access to sections of a court’s Website to be restricted to members of particular groups, such as attorneys who practice before that court, or pro se litigants.
    • Drupal enables single sign on.
  • Drupal has tools that can manage the flow of information to interested parties:
    • Drupal enables court personnel to easily publish current information via Websites and blogs.
    • Information published through Drupal can then be distributed — widely or in targeted fashion — via a multitude of RSS feeds, email notification, etc.
  • Drupal enables the interoperability of government information:
    • With more and more government agencies using Drupal, Drupal use in the judicial branch would increase the interoperability of information between branches of government.
    • As Drupal is being adopted by federal, state, and local government agencies, Drupal fosters interoperability of information between different levels of government.
    • Data published through Drupal is often stored in a MySQL database, making the data portable and increasing the likelihood of standardization.
  • Drupal enables courts, if they wish, to allow the public to provide input via court Websites.
  • Bulk data can be made available to the public via Drupal.

Many thanks to Elmer Masters, John Mayer, Dan Nagy, and Stuart Sierra for their comments.

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