Why Case Management Software Fails to Manage Cases

Chris Hoyer is the Founder and Chairman of Flat Rock Systems.  His vision for developing information technology is the driving force behind Genu.  Click below for the first in a series of video blogs that offer his unique insight on the power of Genu.

I have practiced law for over thirty years, eighteen of those years as a prosecutor, the rest in private practice.  I specialize in fraud.   I have also been designing software for that endeavor since about 1989, all for self-consumption.  The first endeavor in software was simply to make sense of a prosecutors’ office of 100 lawyers operating off 4×6 cards.  Back then, I did what we all did, create databases that spit out lists of cases, people and events.

Later, in private practice, I designed a more sophisticated paperless system for my law firm to give us a competitive advantage.  But still, the product of that software was a bunch of lists and events.  It was as good as any case management system but it never really managed anything.  Like all of them, it just let me keep track of dates and where my documents were and who was working on what.  Sometime they can spit out a static summary, which you had to enter anyway.

But that isn’t case management.

A “case” is a narrative, not a list.  When someone asks you to describe your case, you don’t start listing your documents and time records; you tell a narrative.  When it is time to step up to the podium, lists will do you no good.  Or, for that matter, when it’s time to inform your boss, or senator or regulator or whomever, you have to have a good, solid narrative of what your case is about.  And no case management or knowledge management system helps you produce that product.  In fact, speaking for myself, the first time I actually said it out loud might well be the night before I had to step up and present the case in court.

This may come as a shock, but even in the FBI (with whom I have worked for years), the ‘case’ or ‘investigation’ actually travels by word of mouth.  It exists, for the most part, in the head of the case agent.  Oh, there may be interim summary reports of events, but the case itself is never actually seen.  In other words, there is no place to go to ‘see’ the Enron case.  All you would see are file cabinets and stacks of file folders and tapes.

This is especially troublesome if you are the head of the FBI or State Attorney General or even, like me, the head of an office that puts together cases for a living.  Maybe like you.  But actually we were all left with asking the person in charge of the case ‘how is that Smith case going?’  You get a narrative in return and you can only hope that the person responding knows what they are talking about and has remembered the important stuff.

With even a small case lasting a few months with a handful of witnesses and documents, your memory starts to degrade.  You may know where the interviews and documents are located but you are hard-pressed to remember what’s on those documents or what those witnesses actually said.  Unfortunately now most of our cases go on for years and the situation gets worse.  As a prosecutor and now as a private practitioner, I have cases that go on for seven years or more.  Good luck trying to recall what is important, especially when your personnel changes in the interim.

So I set out 4 years ago to solve this dilemma and I finally did.  I tried everything.  I won’t go into the whole ordeal here.  But since in our practice we routinely collaborate with other firms, with experts, and with various government agencies, it was essential that we not be tied to any particular brand and that, ultimately it be cloud-based. (By the way SharePoint was an expensive disappointment…$50,000 just for the license to interact with the outside world.  Geez.) So we made our own.  And the final test was a case with 1500 witnesses and 500,000 documents.  The result:  A nice multimedia narrative with links to all source documents (and context) with playable audio and video.  And it didn’t break.

So now as I sit here I can tell you what everyone is doing and thinking in real time.  On my iPad even.  I can tell at a glance what is weak and what is strong.  What is ready to go and what is not.  And all the knowledge has been saved and the best of it has been used in the narrative and the rest is linked for weight.  That is what managing a case is about.

Since all the people we collaborate with have asked about the system, and since I am not crazy, we assembled a team of seasoned software veterans, engineers programmers etc, and created an industrial strength version with workflows and granular security and other things I didn’t think about myself.

And because my first love is using the system to unravel big fraud schemes, I don’t want to be primarily a software company.  So we are in negotiations with traditional legal software firms for a partnership deal.  Others have encouraged us to go forward on our own.  Who knows?  In the meantime,  we put up a website as a placeholder while we decide.

So if you early adopters out there are interested in getting started, we have a couple more  weeks to accept beta testers.

Thanks for reading.

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