Why It's Time to Digitize Court Records

Why It's Time to Digitize Court Records

by Niharika Sharma

Efficient and effective management of documents and records helps any organization run more smoothly. While improving this function can make a big difference in nearly any industry, it can have a particularly positive impact when it comes to organizing court records. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down courtrooms, the United States’ federal court system was facing a backlog of cases, as were many state and local jurisdictions across the country.

Keeping court proceedings running quickly and smoothly while maintaining the integrity of the process and avoiding errors is critical to the pursuit of justice and a well-functioning society overall. Digitizing court documents - both historical or archived documents as well as all newly created documents moving forward - is a critical step in helping push through this blockage.   

Court documents are instruments or records that are presented to or produced by a court, and they play a pivotal role in many of the basic functions of the justice system. There are a wide variety of court documents, including some that are available to the public and some that are considered highly confidential. This distinction impacts how they should be handled and stored - a distinction that can be more easily enforced on digital documents than on traditional paper. 


Digitizing Documents

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, digitization quickly climbed the priorities list at many organizations. With in-person interactions limited in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, taking processes into the digital realm became key to maintaining continuity, while improving existing systems and optimizing work efficiency. Digitizing documents stands out as a critical opportunity for improvement, as it would result in a faster, smoother, and more organized document management system and empower other downstream digitization efforts.

This kind of digitization can help operations function more efficiently. For businesses, this translates to improved productivity and greater profits. For the courts, more effective use of time and resources means cases go ahead as scheduled without needless delays, business is handled during the first hearing, communication between all parties is clear, and trials can take less time.

Digitizing court records may sound like a daunting task, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, especially in the long run. Some of the most compelling reasons courts need to start implementing digitization into their records management protocols include:


Improved Accessibility

No matter how organized your physical document storage and retrieval processes are, accessing digitized documents through a well-designed management system is going to be easier and more efficient. You can store records, define a standardized naming format, find files and distribute them within a few minutes.

Access isn’t only important for citizens and the court itself. Digitizing court documents can also make it easier and faster for other platforms, organizations, and government agencies to utilize important information and metadata included in those documents. For example, more accessible records would make it easier for local police departments to create a simple portal function helping individuals look up outstanding warrants, tickets, and fines without leaving their website. 


Reduced Storage Space

One of the most immediately visible impacts of digitizing records is the reduction in necessary storage space. One piece of paper may seem thin, but at the rate new documents are created, they can pile up quickly. No doubt, when you picture a court records room, you probably envision a vast basement room filled with rows upon rows of boxes or filing cabinets. That’s a lot of square footage that could be put to more productive use. Tracking down documents in that environment can be difficult and time-consuming. Digitizing records will help you save on storage space. Maintaining physical records requires full-time help. Someone needs to be there to get the files and move them from locations. 


Improved Security

Improving the accessibility of records doesn’t mean sacrificing security. Legal and court documents often contain some amount of sensitive or personally identifiable information, and it’s the court’s job to ensure the security of this information isn’t compromised. When dealing with confidential data, it is critical to ensure that the documents don't reach anyone other than the authorized persons.

Paper documents can be difficult to protect with high levels of certainty. Despite best efforts, hard copies of documents can be mislabeled, incorrectly filed, or otherwise lost to misplaced. They can also be victims of accidents like fires or floods. Digital documents, on the other hand, are much more secure, and not just from being damaged or lost. Not only can digitized documents be defined with permissions structures that ensure they are only accessible by approved individuals, and also offer audit tracking, allowing the clerks or records custodian to track who’s viewed, accessed, or changed a given document, when, and from where.

Physical paper documents are a staple of pretty much every industry, none more so than the justice system. It may be difficult to imagine replacing something so deeply ingrained in the standard operating procedures, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Digitization technology like Exela’s IntelliScan line of production scanners offers a great starting point for transforming paper documents into fully digital assets quickly and accurately.


Find out more about how Exela’s digitization solutions can help bring the justice system into the digital age.