The pandemic accelerated efforts to modernize the U.S. court system. Yet ongoing delays, backlogs, and workforce shortages indicate that courts should continue investing in technology to run more efficiently.

“But it’s going to take more than Zoom hearings and emailed PDFs to make that so,” Judge Samuel A. Thumma, who serves on the Arizona Court of Appeals, recently explained in The Hill. “To make good on the lessons we learned over the past three years, and to truly improve access to justice for all, courts need to keep innovating and implementing technology that supports universal access to remote hearings and streamlined handling of digital evidence.”

Legal Current talked with Steve Rubley, president, Government, Thomson Reuters, about how Case Center – a cloud-based digital evidence management platform for courts – has helped Thumma and the Arizona courts digitize. Arizona courts’ progress on digitization can “provide a playbook for other court systems that are likely experiencing many of the same challenges,” Thumma said in The Hill.

Rubley noted that Arizona was the first U.S. state to implement Case Center in 2021. When the pandemic hit, Case Center helped enable the court system to better manage virtual hearings and easily share evidence digitally.

“Arizona courts remained open and saw enhanced access to justice with the use of digital hearings,” Thumma explained in The Hill. “Through surveying of litigants, attorneys and other court participants, we found that 92 percent cited reduced travel time, 76 percent cited taking less time off work and 72 percent cited reduced costs as the immediate benefits of remote hearings.”

Rubley said the advantages Thumma described are similar to other Case Center users’ experiences.

“We are hearing the same messages from other courts currently using Case Center as it allows them to manage the evidence more effective and efficiently, which in turn leads to faster proceedings that help reduce the backlog,” Rubley noted. “As an example, a lengthy 77-day trial, involving multiple parties, was completed in 45 days. The judge commented he was convinced that a digitized evidence-sharing platform improved the efficiency of the trial. He was most impressed with the fact that at the end of each day, he was able to review the day’s submissions on his laptop in chambers or from the comfort of his own home.”

Thumma also discussed the need for increased technology funding to enhance access to justice in The Hill.

Yet Rubley noted the 2023 State of the Courts Report found nearly 75% of courts are not using digital evidence management systems. Rubley explained the financial benefits for courts of investing in solutions like Case Center.

“While there is a fiscal return on the investment, the value of Case Center is in the soft cost savings for the courts,” Rubley said. “The time and effort spent in collating, organizing, and sharing evidence is immense and puts tremendous pressure on the courts and their staff. Using a product like Case Center improves the overall process and saves time and effort for all court staff and the parties.”

Rubley shared key ways Case Center is helping judges and courts digitize.

“With Case Center, everyone involved in a case has access to the most current evidentiary material whether conducting live, virtual, or hybrid hearings,” Rubley said. “This keeps the proceedings streamlined and provides accessibility to the digital evidence anytime and from anywhere. No longer are multiple copies of the evidentiary material required. The ability to access the digital evidence significantly reduces the time it takes to organize the materials and to prepare for a court. Most importantly, it reduces the length of time required for a hearing, thus reducing the courts’ backlogs.”

Rubley emphasized the importance of building on the technology investments that courts made during the pandemic to continue transforming the court system.

“The quick adaptability of judges and courts through the pandemic has proven that the adoption of technology to transform the court system can be done,” Rubley said. “Reverting to the ‘old ways’ would set the courts back, and more importantly, impact access to justice, which is a proven benefit of Case Center.”

As Thumma said in The Hill, “Technology helped us survive the pandemic. Let’s not squander it.”

For more on how implementing technology is strengthening access to justice, read Thumma’s piece The Hill.

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