U.S. courts were forced to modernize during the pandemic, but the 2023 State of the Courts Report found that continued investment in digitalization is needed to prevent that progress from eroding. The Thomson Reuters report revealed how the U.S. court system is plagued by delays, backlogs, and workforce shortages – underscoring how further modernization is urgently needed.

Legal Current talked with Jamie Foote, senior product manager, Case Center, about how judges and court professionals can use Thomson Reuters tools to help run their courts more efficiently. Our conversation focused on Case Center, a cloud-based digital evidence management platform for courts. Below is a recap of the conversation.

Legal Current: The report showed that 79% of judges and court professionals are experiencing delays in their hearings – with evidentiary issues cited as a significant delay factor. What are some ways that Case Center can help legal professionals reduce these delays?

Foote: Courts often believe they have successfully digitized by moving from paper to PDF exhibits. However, PDFs simply replicate many of the challenges of paper. PDFs often go through multiple iterations before being heard in court. For example, if a party has late arriving evidence, the pagination must be updated, and the latest version of the case shared with all parties again. We frequently hear of lawyers making a page reference during a hearing, the judge has an out-of-date copy, and chaos ensues as the parties attempt to locate the correct exhibit.

When parties share digital evidence, IT security is often so locked down that emails sent to the courthouse are rejected because the PDF or multimedia attachments are too large. Often people don’t know how to securely encrypt and decrypt files. Versioning quickly becomes an issue. Courts and judges report struggling to manage, organize, and maintain cloud drives, quickly losing track of which is the latest submission within a case.

Also, there is a huge increase in the use of multimedia evidence, ranging from body-worn cameras to videos taken with smartphones. Sending such files via DVD isn’t a viable option; increased IT security has led to the removal of DVD drives from computers. Often the court only has a limited number of courtroom DVD players, meaning if one isn’t free then the case must be adjourned to another time. Email file sizes are limited and uploading into a cloud drive doesn’t provide functionality required for efficient review. During hearings, lawyers need features to speedily navigate to the footage they intend to share.

By using Case Center, all parties get access to a secure space, created specifically for evidence management and courtroom use, where they are guaranteed to have access to the evidence when they need it. Versioning and pagination issues become a thing of the past. Digital evidence can be shared with the court without coming up against file size limits, and secure encryption is taken care of by Case Center. Notes and markup can persist on files across hearings. Multimedia can be streamed directly from within Case Center without a need for DVD players or special codecs.

In short, the traditional challenges such as having trouble locating, processing, or managing evidence are removed. Case Center reduces the number of adjournments through better handling of evidence and enables hearings to run smoother.

LC: In the report, 40% of judges and court professionals said they use old-fashioned tools such as thumb drives to store digital evidence. How can adopting solutions like Case Center help ensure their digital evidence is securely stored and protected from cyber threats?

Foote: Thumb drives, DVDs, and paper all suffer from inherent security risks. There is tremendous risk of breaches to information security when using these old-fashioned tools. Breaches can lead to damage in reputation and large fines from regulatory bodies.

The risks with paper are obvious. Paper can be misplaced, easily copied and there is no audit trail. It must be manually locked away in a secure location to prevent access. Lawyers have been known to accidentally leave sensitive files on public transport, and even drive away from the office while their paper files were still on the roof of their vehicle. The point is that nowadays there is no excuse for sensitive information to not be stored and accessed in a digital format from a secure location.

Thumb drives and DVDs are slightly more secure. They can be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. However, the encryption is often weak if it was added at all. Passwords are shared by unsecure means. They can also be easily misplaced. And with IT security teams increasingly disabling DVD drives and USB ports, they unintentionally cause the opposite of the desired effect of improving security by forcing staff to take digital evidence home to view it on personal devices.

None of these tools provide an audit trail. Once the evidence has been sent by one of these methods, the sender has lost sight of where it is, who is viewing it, and who might be copying it to share with an unintended audience. If someone accidentally includes a piece of evidence that should not be included, they cannot recall it.

Case Center creates a secure space for all parties to upload, share, and review their evidence. There is a complete audit trail available in the event of accidental or unauthorized disclosure. All evidence is securely encrypted at rest and in transit automatically. Thomson Reuters, working closely with Microsoft, has created a mature approach to information security in the cloud which is backed up by security certifications such as ISO27001. Leveraging the power of Microsoft Azure™, we have implemented best-in-class cloud security benefitting from Microsoft’s cyber security and intelligent threat detection.

LC: What feedback have you heard from judges and court professionals who already use Case Center?

Foote: Customers have shared comments like this: “Time is precious in litigation, and this user-friendly technology provides a seamless service that will allow us to work more efficiently and cost effectively with our teams, wherever we are situated in the world.”

LC: What’s the one thing you want legal professionals to know about the value of investing in solutions like Case Center?

Foote: Once you’ve transitioned to digital evidence management, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it and why it took you so long. Become more efficient, clear backlogs, reduce adjournments, and ultimately increase access to justice.

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