How a common case management platform speeds up legal workflows
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Sep 16, 2015
New York City has long had a reputation for hustle and bustle, and now the city that never sleeps is working to ensure that legal cases don’t get stalled by document bottlenecks. A shared, web-based case management system is helping legal organizations eschew antiquated approaches to serve the population of 8.4 million more efficiently.
New York’s Law Department has been using Mitratech’s LawManager – originally developed by Bridgeway Software, which Mitratech acquired this summer – for about a decade. But in 2013, it started branching out to other legal entities in city government, creating a single system by which any agency can not only manage cases, but actively share information.
“When a number of city agencies began looking to implement their own case management systems, we – and by 'we' I mean City Hall, the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Information Technology and Communications, the Law Department, the Office of Management and Budget – came to the conclusion that it would be beneficial for other city agencies to implement the same product for their own in-house case-tracking needs,” said David Goldin, administrative justice coordinator at the Office of the Mayor.
The reasons for that decision were two-fold, Goldin added. First, at individual agencies, using the same system provides the same benefits of tracking cases, creating a document-management system and generating management reports that the Law Department experienced 10 years ago.
“At another level, what we are doing with LawManager is building a system that operates across agencies so…that we can have cross-agency communication and reporting using a common platform,” he said. "We can have the same kind of management reports, and we can identify and gain efficiencies from addressing interfaces between agencies where you have cases that are flowing from one agency to another or one agency is hearing cases being presented by another agency."
Additionally, users can generate reports and managers can make better decisions about allocating resources. For instance, managers can monitor how long it’s taking people to handle cases, see how many of the same type of cases are coming through and compare data historically, across agencies or across parts of an organization. “That allows you to make much more fine-grained and immediate management decisions,” Goldin said.
Without an information-sharing system, case files were brought by messenger from agency to agency and all the data would have to be re-entered as it moved across the stages of litigation, said Tom Mavis, director of government sales at Mitratech.
The city’s Department of Information Technology hosts LawManager in a private cloud and that enables the department to create a single instance of LawManager that each agency can configure to its needs. The result is separate databases behind a single application server, Mavis said.
Everything is based on thin clients so that when a new agency comes onboard, users can log right into the system using whatever login credentials the agency requires. “There’s no footprint on the desktops, which made it much easier, obviously, for that technology agency because they don’t have to visit anyone’s desktop,” Mavis said.
Cases can come into the system via myriad avenues, including a public-facing portal on NYC.gov, where residents can submit complaints or inquiries. For instance, if someone falls into a pothole, he or she can file a claim that the comptroller will try to manage pre-litigation. If it escalates, the Law Department takes on the case and all of the claims data -- injuries, details about accident, the agency potentially responsible – goes electronically through LawManager to the attorneys responsible.
“There’s a workflow engine on the backend that can transfer the appropriate data for that case over to the other agency,” Mavis said. “The person who’s been designated as the recipient of alerts…would get an email or a new calendar invite – it’s up to them how they want to get it – telling them, ‘Hey, there’s a new case in the system.... Take a look at this.’”
Then, when updates are made to the file, they feed back to the original agency.
About six of the city's 60 legal departments now use LawManager, Mavis said. The first group outside the Law Department was the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. Some cases heard at OATH can be appealed to the Civil Service Commission and some can be litigated in state court, where the Law Department handles cases.
“What that allows us to do is have a case that is heard at OATH tracked through a system that provides the same kind of data and reporting as at the other agencies,” Goldin said. When the case goes to the Civil Service Commission, that same file goes with it. If the case is ultimately litigated, then the Law Department gets access to it.
What’s more, each agency can control access, meaning it can determine how much of the file to share. That boosts efficiency because each agency gets only the information it needs, Goldin added.
For agencies to adopt LawManager, they must have a document management system in place that can integrate with the tool and Case Matters. It’s scalable; DOIT can add application servers as needed.
Agencies are not required to use LawManager, Goldin said, but it’s becoming tougher for them to rely solely on an Access database, increasing the likelihood that they will want to use something more sophisticated.
“Hopefully the success at the agencies that have implemented so far – which is about a half a dozen – will encourage more agencies to do that,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.