The Business Challenge
Prosecutors execute their important responsibilities in paper-intensive offices. Most cases begin with a police investigation report being filed and reviewed, a charging decision being made by a prosecutor, and a charging document being authorized. A high volume of cases must be efficiently handled in a fast-paced environment. But the traditional, physical file folder system has always had undeniable drawbacks: inefficiency and storage.
Inefficiency: An obvious limitation with a physical file is that only one person can use it at a time: to read a police report, to make file notes, etc. Significant personnel time is required to create, manage, and maintain physical files. For Yolo County, an estimated 40% of support or attorney staff time is spent creating files, retrieving the file folder each time a document is received for a case, putting the paper in the file, and returning the file to its storage location.
The file is retrieved for the attorney to prepare for or attend every event or hearing in court, or so the attorney can discuss the case with opposing counsel, the victim, or the media. Office staff must retrieve a file, copy and mail discovery documents for the defense. Victim-witness employees need the file to talk to victims or witnesses. Each time the file is retrieved, it needs to be re-filed. Whether the office has dozens, hundreds or thousands of files, they spend a considerable amount of time simply moving files or paper.
Misplaced files are commonplace. While every file is supposed to be re-filed, they are often on someone's desk, in court, in a briefcase, etc. And, when incoming documents are not timely placed in the file, attorneys appear in court without the latest documents. Some larger offices have tried to keep track of files with bar-coding or using a centralized file room, but the problems persist. Files often cannot be located when needed. "Where's the file?" echoes through office halls, and any real work comes to a halt as staff wastes time looking for a file.
Storage: Prosecutor offices are usually crammed with file cabinets and many offices require separate file storage rooms or off-site storage for case files that have been closed. But, post-judgment proceedings and appeals often compel retrieval of those files within short time periods. Until now, there was no alternative to expending time and money to retrieve those files for post-judgment proceedings.
The SyTech Solution
SyTech worked closely with Yolo County to facilitate the transition from paper to electronic files. We identified key fields with Yolo staff that would allow them to efficiently retrieve information.
We then began the process of scanning and electronically organizing the case files utilizing our proven Kofax conversion process. This required daily communication to ensure timely processing of very active files.
In addition to our conversion services, Yolo County utilized 1DocStop, our thin-client records management solution built on the leading Microsoft .NET Framework. This feature-rich, XML based solution served as a platform for building LAWSuite, a full-featured integrated content management solution. LAWSuite provides prosecutors with a “remote office.” Using only a laptop, they have the ability to login to the online application, access important case file information, and make critical updates.
Whether in the courthouse, in the field, or even at home, prosecutors have access to the case files they need to be efficient and productive, thus saving valuable time and resources.
The Result: Paperless Attorneys
The benefits of SyTech’s approach to Yolo County’s challenge and the resulting LAWSuite are growing exponentially as new case files are created:
- Expanded Resources Available to Attorneys: Unlike prosecutors carrying physical file folders, Yolo County attorneys have networked access to digital recordings (e.g., 911 calls, photographs, videos) as they conduct pre-trial conferences or appear in court. They also have access to e-mail communication with office staff and colleagues, and electronic legal research.
- Simultaneous File Access: More than one person can access an electronic file's notes and documents, which was impossible with physical files. This provides a marked increase in efficiency as legal secretaries, victim advocates and attorneys often need to see or add to the same file within minutes.
- No Lost Files: Lost files are typically a daily occurrence in offices dependent on physical files. No time is wasted looking for a file stored electronically. Files are accessed and searchable by defendant or victim name, case number, or a unique entry number.
- Faster, Easier Discovery: Prosecutors are required to disclose investigative reports and material to defense counsel, a process called discovery. This can now be quickly provided in an electronic format.
- Enhanced Trial Preparation: Because of the power of optical character recognition (OCR), attorneys have a new, more powerful way to review case documents to prepare for trial. LawSuite indexes the text in documents. All scanned documents (with the exception of handwritten statements) can be searched by keywords or phrases in reports or transcripts of a file.
- File Security: The contents of physical files are difficult or impossible to replace. Yolo County’s case management records and imaging system are separately backed-up to off-site locations each night, which is a vast improvement in "disaster-recovery" preparation.
As a result of the partnership with SyTech, Yolo County has become the first District Attorney’s Office to develop a paperless solution.