LA County Public Defender's Office
Overhauling 23 legacy systems to uphold justice with the cloud
KEY USE CASES
Field operations management
KEY USE CASES
centralized source of information versus 23 legacy systems
case records and counting
cases per year
adult criminal cases handled over a decade
The department relied on a legacy system that combined 23 siloed technology platforms, making it hard to surface case information
Complying with regulatory and security mandates emphasized protecting data versus focusing on their clients
Reliance on paper records challenged business continuity during the pandemic, and the company needed insights on justice department trends and demographics
With the Content Cloud, attorneys gain insight into the lifecycle of a client's case and improve outcomes
With content meeting regulatory and security mandates in a single place, attorneys easily find information without sacrificing security or privacy
Insight into geospatial demographics serves policymaking and decision-making at a state level
The human story behind justice system data
An attorney with the LA County Public Defender's Office was browsing a client's electronic file when he noticed that the client had received a probation violation for failing to complete a class, and was scheduled to appear in court in ten days. He called the client — who had absolutely no idea he was in violation. Ten days later, they showed up to court with the documentation to prove compliance, and the judge sent the client home with a pat on the back.
All in the line of work for an attorney at a public defender's office.
But not so fast. Prior to implementing the Content Cloud, this story may not have had such a rosy ending. Not long ago, probation records were not integrated with individual case holder records, nor were court calendars synced with probation department systems, so the attorney wouldn't have known there was a problem. Best case scenario, the probation department would have notified the court that the client needed to appear, but without context of the specific parole violation.
“Most likely, that client would have been sent back to jail for at least two weeks, if not more,” says our storyteller, Mohammed Al Rawi, Chief Information Officer, LA County Public Defender's Office. “During those two weeks, they might lose their job, and couldn't pay rent. So they’d likely become homeless. It's mind-boggling, isn't it?”
The LA County Public Defender's Office — the oldest and the biggest in the nation — has a very clear mission: to give legal voice to those who cannot afford an attorney, and to do so in the most respectful and skillful way.
“We strive to be the finest defense in the nation,” says Al Rawi, “so there's an extremely high standard put into what outcomes are achieved and how we represent our clients.”
One of the first things Al Rawi did when he came on board was turn to the Content Cloud to connect the dots on critical client information.
One centralized source of information to replace 23
In the justice system, technology is centered around case data. But if you want to weigh the impact on the human being — what their legal trajectory has been like, how many appearances they've made, whether they're in violation of a probation — it can be a challenge for public defenders still using legacy technology from the pre-cloud era.
“As a law firm, we don't represent cases. We represent people,” says Al Rawi. “To tell the story of a person was a real struggle. It could take months to correlate content related to a particular person in the system.”
The LA County Public Defender's Office needed a deeper view into the people it was serving, which was precisely how Al Rawi landed the job. He's the very first CIO at the organization brought in to transform their use of information.
The courts' main technology stack had been built on a Cobalt platform that was more than a half a century old, with 23 legacy systems cobbled onto it — the youngest built before Al Rawi was even born. This system could spit out information about discreet transactions, but it couldn't connect the dots between those transactions in a way that would tell a human story. It certainly couldn't combine all the types of information that go into one defendant's case:
- Court data like dockets and charges
- Case discovery docs like witness accounts, criminal history records, and body-worn video
- Pre-trial, during-trial, and post-conviction data
Arraignment attorneys typically start out holding the baton for a case, but it swiftly moves on to a trial team and support staff that differs at each stage of the trial. With over 140,000 cases a year and 1,200 staff members — 700 alone being criminal lawyers — the department handles so many felony and misdemeanor cases that they've accumulated 160 million records dating back decades. It's a lot of stakeholders, a lot of data, and a very complicated process that can drag out over time.
Box brought it all together, across stakeholders and years.
Why Box, why now
“What we get with Box,” says Al Rawi, “is all of the content details: what's used to build the case, write the motion, and build the strategy. Now, I can look at situations from a 'person lens' and recognize particular demographics from the past — who has been charged with a certain type of offense, why the disposition looks this way. In a matter of seconds, We can show if there are racial biases or discrepancies between how cases are disposed. We can actually show impact.”
Al Rawi had a hunch that Box was the right platform right off the bat. It had three key benefits that the LA County Defender's Office really needed:
- Unlimited storage
- Flexibility of integrations and APIs
- The right level of security and compliance
That last one was particularly important, because the department has to comply with the criminal justice information system certification called CJUS — an extensive regulation with over a dozen requirements, governed by the FBI. Box meets the CJUS requirements in a way most other cloud content management platforms cannot. The courts also impose specific security boundaries around who can see what information, and any platform the team used had to follow that criteria explicitly. Box also gives the Public Defender's Office the ability to control their own encryption, limit access to files, and otherwise get granular with user security settings.
Another crucial factor was that Box integrates smoothly with Salesforce, the main tool the department was already using to track cases. “Whatever we had invested in creating a very complex criminal case management on top of Salesforce, it would have to integrate smoothly with Box,” Al Rawi explains. “The integration of Box with Salesforce is very flexible, and it's one to one. A lot of the security that we apply on Salesforce could be pushed seamlessly to Box without creating a middleware to manage security.”
Now, the department had an ability to use one single system for all the disparate information it had always scattered among legacy tech platforms.
1.24M adult criminal cases over the course of a decade
The move to the Content Cloud helps the department better serve people, but there's another layer of proof involved. Now, they can also prove their value within the greater state government.
“We're a county department, but we get assigned work by the state, so we comply with the state geographically, operationally, and strategically,” says Al Rawi, “It's a bit of operational schizophrenia having to be relevant to the county KPIs but also showing the outcomes to the state.”
Box gave them the big picture view so they could make their efforts transparent on a state level. Al Rawi was able to give the Board of Supervisors ten-year's worth of geospatial content. On a GIS map, they can now see the demographics of constituents in terms of location, race, gender, age — mapping all those things to charges, dispositions, and outcomes. In a decade, the office had registered 1.24 million residents — which equates to roughly 12.5 percent of the LA county population.
“This type of justice data visibility was groundbreaking!” Al Rawi says. “Data shows how our mission is beyond a constitutional mandate, and is also a critical service provider, establishing value visibility to the CEO and the Board of Supervisors.”
Real cost savings and profound human value
Consolidating from 23 legacy systems into one secure platform — the Content Cloud — allows the organization to spend a fraction of what they used to on workflow and content management. With Box, one of the biggest cost-saving elements is unlimited storage. Since one single case might involve ten hours of video footage, and since a lot of this content has to be retained for a long time by regulatory standards, scalability of data is critical. But Al Rawi considers the value impossible to quantify with dollar signs: “It's not like you're comparing cost savings on equal things. Those legacy systems were costly to maintain, but they were also not bringing the value that this new system brings.”
Still, says Al Rawi, “Despite the fact that the cloud brings sustainability and significant cost savings and avoidance, we're not focused on cost only. We're looking at providing the best service possible. So when you are seeking human impact, it's about the ROI of investment, not the cost savings.”
Al Rawi's team was able to work directly with the Box product team to innovate a solution that would integrate with all their disparate systems and make everything both smooth and secure. “All of the yellow tape and the red tape and burgundy tape that we have in the justice system — you need to satisfy each one,” he testifies. And as a result, “We use Box in a way I don't really think any other organization has done — beyond the limits.”
“This new system, and the confidence it’s brought, could change the nature of our business — where every single transaction happens in real time.”