Vancouver tech firm aims to speed up legal system

The court system has never been accused of being an efficient process, but a new tool from Vancouver-based Sierra Systems Group Inc. is looking to change things.

The company’s newly released Court Case File Management system is aimed at judges, clerks, and other legal administrators to improve the way they deal with legal documents. Sierra said the tool manages documents in their lifecycle through court operations using a browser interface. By integrating disparate legacy applications into one system, the company hopes to dramatically reduce the amount of lost and misfiled court paperwork and create a “whole view” of case file information.

“The courts are massive consumers of documents and paper, so finding a practical way to manage all this paper and allow better access to information over the Internet was the driving factor,” said Joe Siegel, director of the justice practice at Sierra Systems. “The courts are very tradition-bound and there really isn’t that much automation being used. In many ways, they’re years behind the curve of what you would see in a private sector or even other government organizations like law enforcement.”

With the system, courts are able to input electronic information or scan physical documents into the system and then tag them to a relevant case file. Siegel said the document management system was created to work along side the other business applications courts use.

“The court’s line-of-business application is a case management system,” he said. “The CMS marketplace is very fragmented and you see lots of vendors out there and many legacy applications still in use.” The case file system is a vendor-neutral solution that works independently of the CMS, added Siegel.

Brock Smith, a partner at Vancouver-based Clark Wilson LLP’s Technology and Intellectual Property Practice Group, said greater adoption of electronic document management tools would go a long way toward speeding up the legal process. To help manage the volume of documents that are filed each day at a typical courthouse, lawyers are now turning to their own file management systems, he said.

“Lawyers are using sophisticated electronic document management systems loaded onto the laptops they take into the courtroom,” said Smith. “But historically, judges have not had similar forms of electronic access and so lawyers still had to file hardcopies of their documents and the courthouse staff still had to keep all that paper in some semblance of order for the judge.”

He said staff should be able to spend more time managing the critical issues that arise during a legal proceeding and ultimately, reduce the time lawyers and clients spend waiting in court to speak their case.

Another major trend the system will look to address is the move toward electronic filing – which refers to the ability of attorneys and other government agencies to submit their findings electronically.

“E-filing is something that every court wants to do and I’d say that most courts have at least started to pilot implementations of it,” said Siegel. Canadian courts will have an advantage to implementing document management systems that address e-filing because they do not have restrictive mandates on the solutions they can use, unlike the legal system in the U.S., he added.

In addition to its benefits to legal professionals, Sierra hopes the tool will have applicability to the general public and work to alleviate the intimidating appearance of the legal system by providing online access to court information. The company also said improved public access will also cut down on unnecessary trips to the busy downtown courthouses, hopefully making them more secure.

“From the public’s perspective, if Sierra’s solution provides faster and better access to court filings and other information, it may help to demystify the court process,” Smith said. “That’s particularly important as more and more members of the public are choosing to deal with smaller matters on their own, without a lawyer.”

Smith said it will be interesting to watch whether Sierra gains significant traction in North American courts and if the promised efficiencies do in fact develop.

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