When Willamette University College of Law opened it’s newly constructed wing, Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (at that time, an active Justice) gave the dedication speech. Given the critical issues then before the Court, everyone listened with rapt attention as Justice Conner began her remarks with the following line:
“I want to speak to you today about the subject of the most profound importance to me… ” She let the crowd hang a pregnant moment, before continuing, “My granddaughter.”
I am again reminded of that fabulous line, because of the way in which I have become aware that a major generational break through has occurred regarding electronic Justice Information Technology. Finally, a method has been discovered to bring youth-challenged boomers, including judges and senior managers, into the twenty-first century. Yes, finally, senior professionals with mid-twentieth century birthdays are embracing, adopting, and willingly relying on cutting-edge information technology.
This development should be extremely gratifying after so many years of such ardent, energetic, often expensive, and usually frustrating attempts by those of us in the profession of moving enterprises like courts and related justice system agencies to adopt and leverage new electronic information management tools. Yes; it’s taken awhile; but we did it.
Ah, well; not exactly…. Turns out we really didn’t do it at all.
The credit goes to the grandkids. They’re the ones who the grey-of-hair set are chasing into the technological promised land. Grandma and Grandpa now practically live and breathe social media and instant communication. I just took part in a teleconference through Skyping. Our Board chair, a couple years my senior, was fully conversant with Skyping – he does it all the time with the grandkids.
Five years ago, I was still hearing senior judges proudly assert that they had no “Smart Phone”. Now, the thought of being off the text-message or Twitter grid for longer than five minutes seems to them unimaginable.
Well, ok. So all we really had to do was wait around for the next generation to spawn instead of bashing our collective heads against brick walls so much of the time. However, the moment having finally arrived, it’s worthwhile to consider how changing habits open opportunities for changing the landscape.
A judge who Skypes and texts with a grandchild is unlikely to be emotionally unable to consider eSigning. There may be questions – there SHOULD be questions – but the underlying, never-spoken but always present visceral resistance – has largely receded. It may be time for a new round of educational and informational outreach to the hitherto more resistant demographic in the justice system community.
Frankly, some results are already starting to show. Judicial “workbench” tools are becoming much more user friendly, intuitive, and powerful. Granted, technological power and sophistication, per Moore’s Law, plays a big role. Likewise, changing demographics as generations that grew up with computers and the internet begin to fill the judicial ranks has marked effect. Indeed, while many technology strategies have long been to (secretly) plan to “outwait” the oldsters, the newest and most powerful judicial support tools are based on direct input from the most senior judges with the most institutional knowledge to pass along.
In some ways, The Great Recession accelerated development and adoption of Judicial Information Systems, because of the imperative to do more with less in an environment of falling budgets and increased demands for services. On the other hand, the same financial pressures, often coupled with generational reluctance to change, acted as a brake on progress.
When budgets began to recover, the combination of pent-up demand and improved technology kicked off what has been a historically unprecedented period of transition to electronic Justice Information Systems.
Now I think we can add that, against many expectations (mine, anyway), even the pre-computer generation is coming around. This factor adds one more not insignificant push on the rapidly accelerating adoption and penetration rate of ever more sophisticated electronic Justice Information Systems. Perhaps even better, the wisdom and institutional memory of some of our very talented and experienced senior judicial minds is being preserved and embedded into the systems of the future.
Justice O’Connor was right.