This blog post was written by a previous PA office manager, who chooses to remain anonymous.
As an office manager for a county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s (PA) Office, I was thrilled to have made the switch from paper files to using The Paperless Prosecutor Solution (PPS).
As law offices, law enforcement agencies, and courts increasingly make the switch to paperless processes, I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it may help you as you begin to think of making the switch to electronic files. Changing software and well-established processes can be a headache if you aren’t prepared, but staying with your current, paper-heavy processes is much, much worse. If you are thinking of switching to a new software for your PA office, but are too afraid to commit, please read on! My goal is to share a bit about the impact the Paperless Prosecutor Solution made to my office, and my confidence in knowing it will do the same for yours.
More Cases, Less Staff? Could it Be True?
The first step in trying to figure out what kind of software you may need is making a strong effort to honestly identify the problems your office faces. I can guarantee almost every county employee in every country would say “we don’t have enough people!” And I believe you. When you’re preparing for a new software, it’s important to think about how a lack of staff could affect that, and where you could legitimately find some savings. Software won’t replace the people you do have, but it will help all of them become much more efficient at the tasks they are performing. After our own implementation, we were able to identify some key areas where the new software was making an immediate impact, which included: immediate availability of files, faster/simpler creation of charging documents and automatic docket preparation.
While these were all apparent right off the bat, the most obvious perk was cutting down the time we were spending searching for files. We were a paper office, and everywhere I looked there used to be stacks of files. Attorneys had their own individual filing systems in each of their offices, the secretaries had files on their desks and our victim rights advocates even had their own paper build-up. On top of that, we had in-office file storage for cases within the last three years, long-term file storage upstairs and downstairs, and no good way to track what was where. We used a cart to bring files to and from the courtroom, and the afternoon before a large docket always looked like that old gameshow where the contestants ran around the grocery store frantically looking for specific items.
When we stepped back and looked at how long the office spent on average just looking for files, we estimated it at two to three hours PER DAY, plus another four to six hours per week ordering and prepping the files for the docket. We began to imagine how much more we could do with that time. It was clear to us that ImageSoft’s Paperless Prosecutor Solution would be able to solve all these problems and turn that wasted time into meaningful working time.
Implementation and Chocolate: Both Worth-While Investments
So away we went into implementation. I was all in. My PA was all in. We saw the long-term value and knew what a difference this would make. My chief? The attorneys? The secretaries? Well, they weren’t there quite yet. I’ll be honest, learning a new software and training all of your staff on it is not a cake walk. Many of the staff in my office had been doing things “the way we’ve always done it” for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years. They were less than enthused about learning a new software, and truly convinced they just needed more people to help them.
If I can give you one piece of advice as you start your software journey, it is this: as soon as you can, try to get away from the “I can’t learn a new software, I have to do my ‘real job’” mentality. Having well-trained staff who had a voice in the process and could help their co-workers during the rollout was invaluable. Yes, there were many long days. Yes, it took patience and lots of chocolate. And yes, it was worth it.
Then and Now: Who Would’ve Guessed?
We implemented the solution together and, looking back, the results have been more impactful than I ever really expected in the beginning. Everyone in our office can access files at the same time and with only a few mouse clicks, which is so much better than the hours of stress and drama we used to endure every week. Charges are filed on time every day and, best yet, the secretaries don’t have to read the attorney’s awful scribbles and try to figure out what counts, charges and enhancements they are looking for. And get this: attorneys enter their court notes while they are in court! If you work in a legal office, you know this saves the secretaries literal hours every day from re-typing handwritten attorney notes into the case management system. Today, the secretaries use their new-found time to get ahead on their other work, which makes them, the attorneys, and clients much happier!
Discovery is now sent electronically, so no more wasted time frantically fighting the copy machine and then running over to the post-office to postmark discovery when the county mail had already been picked up for the day (yes, we did this, at least once per week).
Looking back at the years before we had the Paperless Prosecutor Solution, and looking at the office today, many things have changed. The staff count is not one them. It turns out, adding more people wasn’t the solution after all. It was always about creating efficiencies and leveraging smart technology to help us best serve our community. And, having worked in a paper-reliant office before, I wouldn’t do it any other way now.