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Online System for Court Attendance Reservations a hit

originally published in The Lawyers Weekly

OSCAR may soon arrive at a court near you. When he does, he will make many people a lot less grouchy.

That’s because the Online System for Court Attendance Reservations (OSCAR) offers registered users the ability to reserve court attendances online.

Canadian technology company CourtCanada Ltd. came up with OSCAR as part of its efforts to develop web-based software to expedite and facilitate various court processes for all stakeholders in the Ontario legal system.

Former commercial insolvency practitioner Greg Azeff founded CourtCanada in August 2006, growing the company to its present full-time staff of 15.

OSCAR took an indirect route onto the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General’s radar. “We had been working at the time on an insolvency case management solution that touches the court office in a very tangential way,” Azeff recalls.

The ministry’s court services division had been looking for a system to do what OSCAR does. “We were already three-quarters of the way to completing a solution that would work for them,” Azeff says. “It was a minor part of the overall court management suite we were developing, but as soon as we spoke with them about this it was obvious that we had a solution that we thought would work well for them.”

A one-year pilot project in the estates list in Toronto started in October of 2007. But the pilot was abridged after four months, when the government issued a request for proposals for an OSCAR-like system to support all civil divisions of the Superior Court of Justice. CourtCanada’s proposal was chosen, and OSCAR is currently spreading court by court in Toronto. (The ministry will decide where to deploy it next.)

Estates and trusts lawyer Kimberly Whaley appreciates other features in OSCAR. “It has links to the rules of civil procedure, practice direction, CANLII and other resources,” she says, adding: “The web site is a great resource, not just for lawyers or clerks but for the public at large, since there’s no fee for accessing or searching it.” (Azeff notes that each user has access rights commensurate with that user’s role in the legal process.)

Ontarians face no added tax burden. Lawyers support the system by paying $15 per booking. “This is entirely voluntary,” Azeff says. “Lawyers are free to continue using traditional processes.”

He also claims that lawyers can book attendances in under a minute with no involvement from court staff at the booking stage, which helps to explain why lawyers like Archie Rabinowitz won’t go back to “traditional processes.”

“When you have multi-party litigation, the logistics of trying to book court time can be a nightmare,” says the partner at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. “My assistants and clerks tell me OSCAR saves them hours.”

“I may go in (to OSCAR) the night before I go to court to find where I am on the list,” Whaley says. “I’ll find out who my judge is and where the court hearing is taking place.”

Judges also cotton to OSCAR, since they can use it to check their schedules and matter information.

Court Services staff may be the biggest users of OSCAR. They use it to publish door lists and manage matters and users.

“We estimate OSCAR can capture between 70 and 75 percent of all events booked, reducing the burden on court staff for processing routine reservations by three-quarters,” Azeff asserts. “That allows court staff, in turn, to focus on helping people (like unrepresented litigants) who need more assistance.”

The system isn’t free of omissions or glitches, but neither Rabinowitz nor Whaley can point to any of these as showstoppers. Whaley would like to pay court filing fees when she books attendances. Both want to file documents electronically.

Azeff mentions calls for enhanced support on handhelds like the BlackBerry, the ability to import booking confirmation emails directly into Microsoft Outlook and integration with practice management solutions.

Rabinowitz notes that he sometimes gets multiple emails confirming the same reservation, “but that’s completely tolerable,” he adds. “I couldn’t care less about that.”

Requested enhancements may appear sooner rather than later. “We built a development platform that would allow us to service not just scheduling but all the different transactions in the litigation process: submitting documents online, serving documents online, entire case management solutions,” Azeff explains.

“We would like to integrate a lot of those features to create a more comprehensive solution, but we take our lead from the ministry from that.”

In its current form, the system can’t expand beyond Toronto, or to more Ontario lawyers, quickly enough for Rabinowitz’s liking. “Probate rules require probate applications to be filed in the jurisdiction where the deceased resided,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean all litigation must occur there, but that’s often the result.”

Rabinowitz insists he simply wants to see the system thrive. “I don’t get a commission for how many customers CourtCanada gets,” he chuckles.

For a PDF of this article, click OSCAR_online_court_attendance_system.

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