3 reasons why courts must improve their compliance process
There is an overwhelming pressure on court clerks and court officials today to deliver more with fewer resources. Not only are they being tasked to fund areas of local government outside their direct perview, but they are also forced to operate with frozen or diminished annual budgets.
As a result, courts fall back on manual internal processes as a means to manage compliance and recovery efforts. With limited resources, many end up turning to outside collection agencies (OCAs) immediately, rather than later in the process, after reasonable attempts to collect in-house have failed. But when results fail to improve, constituents end up absorbing the extra costs, as well as the poor experience associated with it.
The issues surrounding the court collections process go far beyond slow case resolution or missing revenues, and continue to draw increasing attention from organizations like the National Center for State Courts, Department of Justice, and even taxpayers. At this point, reform isn’t just desirable, it’s necessary for court systems to function properly.
Here are three reasons why courts need to improve their compliance process:
1 – Unfair treatment of constituents
When a compliance process isn’t functioning well, it is nearly impossible to enforce quality standards or adjudicate cases consistently. If letters are either overlooked or never sent, and information online is missing or difficult to find, constituents may not fully understand what’s expected of them. Cases often escalate, and punitive measures are taken before the defendant even knows what happened. This, packaged with a lack of payment options and inflexible terms, makes it tough to comply.
As constituents encounter friction throughout various touchpoints of their journey with the court, this causes feelings of confusion and uncertainty. Some even become angry about the perceived injustice.
Courts are obligated to administer justice impartially, but an inconsistent compliance process can serve to undermine the mission. Poorly administered or confusing practices not only make defendants unable or unwilling to comply, but also erode public faith and trust — and increase the risk of civil litigation.
2 – Current processes aren’t recovering enough revenue
The ideal collections process obviously results in payment from constituents, but also includes an easy adjudication of cases, ultimately collecting more in-house before outsourcing to OCAs. However, many courts aren’t seeing these results and instead, are experiencing declining recovery rates. What these courts are lacking is the necessary technology that enables them to nurture a more compliant process.
Courts that have adopted the technology, as well as a service-oriented culture and a more cost-efficient operation, have seen dramatic revenue increases. After a seven-year statewide effort to improve its courts’ compliance practices, Texas saw its collections revenue increase overall by 86 percent, or $42 million.
3 – The collections process is too expensive
The traditional compliance process is manual and repetitive, which makes it difficult to effectively track cases and slows down communications with constituents. This inefficient process consumes significant resources, even as courts face increasing budget constraints. This also dramatically affects defendants. When courts outsource cases too quickly to OCAs, an additional 15–30 percent is added to those fees and passed along to debtors who may already have difficulty paying.
The bottom line
For many courts today, their current compliance process is outdated, inefficient and expensive. With clerks and administrators already stretched thin, as well as mounting public pressure for more fair treatment of constituents, the problem won’t improve without swift action. To improve the process for all involved, courts must consider implementing new technology that will allow for more effective data management, streamlined workflows, and a simpler and more consistent user experience.
Jeremy Rust is a Government Services Consultant with Ontario Systems.