CTC 2019: The Outcome is the Goal


The Court Technology Conference (CTC), held biennially by the National Center for State Courts, recently wrapped up in September 2019. Many workers in the public court systems convened in New Orleans, Louisiana to discover new technology applications, build relationships, and exchange ideas on improving workflows. It was also a wonderful opportunity for judges, magistrates, district clerks and other public servants to learn what direction their industry is trending towards. In this year’s conference, challenges centered around AI in our lives, the role of social media, and cybersecurity threats. The most powerful challenge of all, however, was the one delivered at the beginning of the conference.


British author and keynote speaker Richard Susskind kicked off the conference by boldly challenging attendees to discover different methods to help customers achieve better results. Using an analogy, he posited that customers buying a power drill to put a hole in the wall aren’t actually looking for a power drill at all. Rather, customers are looking for tools to reach a specific outcome — which in this case is a power drill. Similarly, he argued that litigants don’t want courts. They want a desired outcome: for their disputes to be resolved fairly and resolutely. This is what Richard called “outcome-thinking”, a mindset that challenges professionals to focus less on their current ways of working and focus more on whether the outcomes they bring might be delivered in more effective and different ways.

Mr. Susskind believes that technology’s exponential rise in growth, capability, pervasiveness, and connectivity has led to a rethinking of how current tasks are handled. He predicts that machines, combining a wealth of data processing and “brute-force computing”, will be able to solve problems better than lawyers, but in a much different way. Whereas lawyers argue that their judgment is needed to solve client problems, Mr. Susskind asks why judgment is even the best solution. His answer to this question is because humans operate under conditions of uncertainty. To this, he argues that supercomputers and AI, with an army of data at their disposal, are better equipped to handle uncertainty than humans. He closed his keynote with a statement and challenge: people don’t want courts, they want outcomes that courts bring. So then, how can courts deliver outcomes in new and different ways?

Delivering Better Outcomes with Foxit

Foxit Software, with its suite of solutions, has been dedicated to meeting Mr. Susskind’s challenge. Many conference attendees indicated that PDFs play a significant role in their workflows. The most asked about PDF use cases from booth visitors were redaction, annotation, e-signature, e-filing and remediation for accessibility. Foxit PhantomPDF not only has dedicated features for all of these, but our developers have gone to great lengths to ensure the experience is as intuitive as possible for users so that optimal outcomes are reached.

Foxit’s accessibility feature as a prime example of this. Many states have adopted accessibility laws similar to Section 508, which requires federal documents to be made accessible to everyone, regardless of disability. As a result, remediation — making a PDF accessible — is one of the most important practices in the public sector but can be difficult to implement without the right tools. Setting the reading order for screen-reading software is a major reason for this. Setting the reading order traditionally requires dragging the order of tagged items up and down on the tag tree panel, requiring extreme attention to detail and a lot of time. PhantomPDF’s Area Reading Order tool offers remediators an easier and more visual way to do this. Simply draw areas around sections of a page and assign a reading order as you want screen-readers to read it. The reordering will automatically be reflected in the tag tree panel. Thus, the same desired outcome is achieved, but in a much more efficient way.

Another feature that was inquired about was the digitization of documents, that is, turning physical documents into electronic versions to be read on computers. We found that many visitors did not have a tool for this. Worse, they had a massive backlog of documents requiring digitization. Foxit’s PDF Compressor is the answer to this. The software takes both scanned and born-digital documents and applies OCR, converting words into fully searchable text PDFs. With the right configuration, PDF Compressor can also tag converted documents for accessibility. For departments with a backlog of paper documents, Enterprise Automation solutions are capable of large-scale conversions, converting many files into fully digital PDF documents — all at once. The outcome Foxit achieves here is a streamlined process and significantly reduced effort for court employees.

With its suite of solutions, Foxit Software strives to deliver better outcomes in the document space. For public court workers who handle documents all day, Foxit wants to improve their workflows by equipping them with the most powerful tools to do so. If Richard Susskind’s overarching message is that people are looking for outcomes, Foxit Software wants to partner with those looking to accomplish this.

Reshaping How We Communicate 

In one of the breakout sessions, members of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida demonstrated how technology transformed their communication and engagement with the public community. With courts having traditionally been a one-way form of communication, social media has fundamentally changed this and has enabled courts to control the narrative. The Ninth Circuit leverages a variety of social tools to both communicate and build their brand. Updates on high-profile trials and national disasters are communicated to the community live via Twitter. In one special instance, the Ninth Circuit even hosted a live Twitter townhall, where a judge answered questions submitted by the community. This was a major hit among high school students, heavy social media users. Other more visual social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are used by the Ninth Circuit to promote their events as well as to celebrate wins. Podcasts have proven to be a very effective communication tool for the Ninth Circuit. Podcast topics have covered local interest, national interest, insider interest, and entertainment. Podcast producers estimated the cost of recording equipment to be less than $1,000 and stressed that production is all done in-house, with limited to no post-production editing. Other new technologies the Ninth Circuit are exploring are live TV, voice tech (Alexa), and wayfinding.

With a broad range of tools at their disposal — most of them free or relatively inexpensive — the Ninth Circuit has been able to integrate social media technology into their communication strategy to reach more people and better serve their community in ways previously unimaginable.

Cyber Predictions of the 2020s

On the second day of the conference, Dan Lohrmann of Security Mentor Inc. took the stage to deliver a mid-note on the future of cybersecurity. As Chief Security Officer, Mr. Lohrmann naturally held a more cautious view of technology, citing several cyberattacks of the 2010s, such as the Snowden leaks and Facebook’s privacy scandal. Thanks to the growing sophistication of technology, these attacks have resulted in companies losing millions of dollars and breaches in public trust. He positioned these attacks as cautionary tales for how we should protect ourselves in the next decade.

Looking into the 2020s, Mr. Lohrmann weighed in on five major tech trends: Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and 3D printing. While he acknowledged the merits and milestones of each technology, such as autonomous driving in AI, the development of smart cities, and better logistics and scheduling through quantum computing, he also warned conference attendees of the security threats attached to each one. Even in their developing stages, Mr. Lohrmann pointed out potential ways that they can be weaponized. Of particular note, 3D printing has been exploited to circumvent facial recognition security. Along with AI, Mr. Lohrmann believed such an exploit can be used to spread fake news and thus influence public perception. He argued a need for a tighter grip on the security and control of these technologies, lest we leave it in the hands of bad actors who want to use them for crime. It is no longer good enough to be reactive to threats. Only by (correctly) predicting which emerging technologies cybercriminals will turn to next will citizens be kept safe.

While opinions and predictions about technology will vary greatly from person to person, it is no doubt here to stay. When used properly, it has the power to vastly improve efficiencies in communications and business. Therefore, what new technologies are used and how it is applied in the courts requires careful planning from IT directors, with consistent feedback from the end-users themselves. It may not be long before we see how the predictions of this conference will play out. At the rate in which technology evolves, we could be looking at a completely different landscape as we move into the next decade.

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