Almost without exception, courts around the world are now heavily reliant on technology in a wide range of functions. From courtroom litigation support to public access portals to internal finance & budget accounting to electronic filing/records to workforce management, courts use technology to support and enable their work. It is very apparent that judges and court administrators must be technologically literate to manage and use all of these technologies successfully. But how do they become technologically literate? Aside from bringing a tech background to the job in the first place, what are the options?
Last week, Government Technology published a good article about educating judges about technology [How Do — and Should — Judges Stay Up to Date on Technology? (govtech.com)].[i]
The article outlines how increasingly judges need to understand technology in order to apply the law properly. One example is the emergence of self-driving cars and their effect on the disposition of traffic-related cases. Judges also need to be conversant with pervasiveness of social media and ethical issues. And, with courts increasingly becoming highly automated, rising cybersecurity threats, and the implementation of hybrid/remote hearings and workers, judges need to be technology-literate if only to govern their own court operations (more on that below).
The article reviews the ways that U.S. state court judges currently keep up to date on technology:
- There is a wide divergence between states in either requiring or providing statewide technology training. Almost none explicitly require periodic technology training, while most states just include technology as one of many topics that qualify for continuing legal education (CLE).
- Judges can avail themselves of national options for technology training and education. For instance, the National Judicial College and the National Computer Forensics Institute offer relevant courses. Beyond these two sources, the Court Technology and eCourts Conferences conducted by the National Center for State Courts, as well as the efforts of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, are valuable.
- “On the spot expertise” happens during the conduct of individual cases that involve technology issues and experts.
How else might we improve technology education for judges? The article discusses the option of expanding technology CLE course requirements; another option is to increase funding to increase course offerings locally and attend national programs.
Government Technology focused on judges, yet many of the same points in the article can be made about court administrators. Modern courts are now almost entirely dependent on automated systems in every aspect of court administration: workforce, financial, facilities, security, records, and caseflow management are all now highly automated. Truly professional court administrators today must be more than just conversant with technology, they must be literate in all the technologies that support these management areas.
Administrators should avail themselves of the same resources mentioned above for judges. In particular, the NCSC’s Court Technology and eCourts conferences are extremely valuable. Routinely reading publications like Government Technology (and its regular e-mail updates), attending technology-oriented management webinars, and even just being inquisitive with your own IT staff about everything they do go a long way to being better informed.
In today’s environment court professionals face many challenges. The use and management of technology is not easy. I hope this Government Technology article spurs court systems, judges, and court administrators to improve their technological knowledge in every way possible. Their courts’ performance depends on it.
[i] A special shout-out to David Slayton (Vice President of Court Consulting Services for the National Center for State Courts) and Jeff Schrade (Director of the Education Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts), experts consulted (and quoted) in this article.