By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft
To be more specific, it was me – a 5’1” content writer — walking into the St. Clair County Courthouse, and I’m pretty sure it was the door security who had a good laugh as I uncertainly put my belongings on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Clearly, nervous me was the least of their worries, which helped to put me more at ease. I guess being small and nerdy does have its perks.
Smiling Click to Click
Once I made it past that rigorous security checkpoint, I was now walking into the prosecutor’s office. St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling and his support team were kind enough to host me for a few hours and walk me through the every-day applications of ImageSoft’s Paperless Prosecutor Solution. Again, I was greeted with smiles and light-hearted humor from all, and immediately felt comfortable enough to be myself.
Before touring me through the office, Michael took some time to chat with me about his perspective on our paperless solution. In our short conversation, I was already taken aback by how much value he was describing just from a prosecutor’s perspective. Much of his emphasis was on the digital workflow, which housed expert opinions, case notes, and other crucial information directly on the file. Best yet, the prosecutor had all this information at his fingertips in real time. Not only was this huge for court prep and general work on the file, but it was crucial to having well-informed conversations with victims or any of their loved ones who might call on a whim. Not surprisingly, just having these few efficiencies enhanced communication among the entire office and boosted the overall morale. Suddenly, the many smiles that greeted me were making sense!
A Very Millennial Assumption
Before I dive any deeper into all that I learned from my visit, I have a confession to make. I am a millennial, and because technology has been an instrumental tool for much of my life, I automatically conceptualize processes in a way that leverages the digital world. So when I learned that many law firms, prosecutor’s offices, courts, and law enforcement agencies are still so paper-heavy, I was shocked! After all, it is 2018 (looking at you, paper lovers!).
One of the St. Clair County clerks recalled the times before they were paperless and actually employed an extra person just to assemble files. And I do mean assemble, complete with manila folders, hand-written labels, and a lot of paper. That’s all this person did – all day! That entire process is now done in a few minutes with even fewer clicks, and it’s not buried in filing cabinets or collecting dust under a desk, and the most up-to-date file can be quickly accessed by all authorized parties. One workflow fixed at least three glaring problems that plague almost every office – who would’ve thought!
Becoming aware of my own assumption that all things are digitized also made me think about the opposite side of the coin: there are many people who conceptualize processes, legal and every-day, as paper-heavy, pencil-in-hand activities. As someone from the across the pendulum, I’m not passing judgment. But I do hope that reading this blog will shed some light on a few efficiency problems you may not have even realized were problems, and open you up to the solutions that can help you.
Behind the Scenes: Warrant Processing
My first stop was the warrant processing department. At the beginning of every day, the clerk looks to her electronic workflow for any in-custody warrants (conveniently highlighted in red) because she knows those need her immediate attention. Within the workflow, the clerk can assign each warrant a case tracking number (CTN), assign the warrant to the appropriate authorizing attorney and push it into that attorney’s queue. From there, the authorizing attorney can electronically send the approved or denied warrant back to the prosecutor’s office. If the warrant is approved by the attorney, it’s placed in an electronic work folder alongside evidence, police reports, search warrants, fingerprints, and other related information. As the clerk explained, anyone with access to the workflow can key that CTN and see all case information and related charges or felonies, and even generate a witness list.
Sometimes, people want to re-open a case that hasn’t been touched in years. “In the paper days, we would have to start fresh because the original file would have been shredded to make room for new files,” said the clerk. “But today, that’s not a problem. We simply key a CTN search and up pops all the case’s information.”
While most of these processes are generally done in a few minutes, the clerk did mention the longest part of her day. “PDF printing into OnBase, which takes an entire 10 minutes.” For those who aren’t familiar with OnBase by Hyland, the core of the Paperless Prosecutor Solution, users can store content directly from any application into OnBase by using Window’s print function, whether it’s a report from a website or data from another system.
Behind the Scenes: Subpoenas
Down another hallway, I chatted with a different clerk who managed subpoenas. Fun fact: the entire office space where this clerk sits used to be dedicated solely to case storage. Imagine it: banker boxes and filing cabinets everywhere!
Once inside their case management system (CMS), the clerk keyed a swift shift + left click to pull a case file and could see all its related information and charges, including bench trial notes. Subpoenas that are ready to be issued are then electronically sent to the police cars that are nearest to the person being served. The officer can then print the subpoena straight from his or her squad car and potentially serve the person within minutes.
“Before we had this electronic workflow, we printed subpoenas and they sat in a pick-up box until an officer stopped by to grab it,” said the subpoena processing clerk. “Worse yet, if an officer had the subpoena but then went off shift or on vacation, the subpoena would just sit in the officer’s bag until he or she came back on duty. Often, the subpoena would get lost or forgotten about, and the person would never be served.”
Now, the subpoenas are immediately issued and typically get served right away. If they can’t be served straightaway, at least they stay top-of-mind in the officer’s queue. And with a full audit trail, the prosecutor can be confident in court when saying whether a subpoena has been served, when, and by whom.
Behind the Scenes: Discovery
When an officer has received evidence relating to a case, he or she is able to electronically upload it to a digital discovery portal where it is automatically shared with the prosecutor’s office. Police reports, lab results, photos and more are then included in an exhibit list and electronically sent over to the appropriate defense attorney.
If the clerks aren’t sure of the defense attorney on file, they can quickly key a search to find the P number on the case.
A Content Writer Walks Out of a Prosecutor’s Office…
And wanders around, half-panicked that my nerdy self can’t remember where I parked my car.
Eventually I find it though, and enjoy the lake view in my rearview mirror as I drive off, knowing that The Paperless Prosecutor Solution has maximized this county’s case processing efficiency and strengthened the safety of this peaceful community. My only hope is that more prosecutor’s offices can better protect and serve their communities by sharing in the story of “I remember when…” instead of the daily, “we need more paper again!”