How a Public Defender’s Office Turned Client Management into a People-Centric Solution

An attorney for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office saw a notice appear in a file that mistakenly stated that a client was in violation of probation and was due in court in 10 days. The attorney figured out what the problem was, rectified it, and provided evidence to a judge on the assigned court date. The judge nods and sends the client home.

It may not sound remarkable, but until the 107-year-old public defender’s office, the largest in the country, went digital in 2020, it took weeks for a notice of paper probation violation to arrive. at the lawyer’s office. The client can show up in court unaware of the offense and be incarcerated in the county jail until everything is settled.

“They would be in the county jail for weeks and in many cases they would lose their jobs and they would lose their house because they cannot pay their rent,” said Mohammed Al Rawi, director of information of the office, adding that the new cloud-based digital system is “not just about cost savings, it’s not just about efficiency. It touches people’s lives. It gives a different magnitude of ROI, and it’s always exciting to see a digital transformation project like this succeed.

The Client Case Management System (CCMS), built with Salesforce technology, provides a centralized platform from which all of the office’s more than 700 attorneys and 400 legal department employees can get the information they need. It replaces a century of complexity, reams of paper and 26 disparate databases – the main one was built on COBOL, a computer programming language dating back to the 1960s.

“What you inherit when you come to such an old national and local organization is a case-centric repository of data,” Al Rawi said. “He is focused on the case, on the process, on the events, but he has unwittingly marginalized people. Residents had to be at the center of our system. The daunting task was to reverse engineer 100 years of case-centric data capture to be people-centric.

His approach to CCMS was two-fold. First, he had to evolve to manage the ebbs and flows in an office that represents more than 140,000 county residents a year charged with felony or misdemeanor charges. “That’s why we chose the cloud,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about software, you don’t have to worry about hardware. You only focus on activity and configuration.

He has already seen the benefits of this scalability. When implementing the system, county legislation and policy created three new offices within the Office of the Public Defender, one of which created a new business process, a new workflow, and a new management group. lawyers.

“We implemented this module in a few weeks,” said Al Rawi. “Historically, the systems we created were so focused on the needs of the day,” he said. “Now we have this flexibility to scale and add new programs to the system and cancel those that are no longer relevant to the business.”

It also future-proofs the system, added Casey Coleman, senior vice president of digital transformation for Salesforce’s Global Public Sector division. “We’re making it better for them,” Coleman said. “It’s never an old system that’s stuck in the past, that someone can’t fix and then becomes vulnerable. We take care of all that for them.

Al Rawi’s second goal was to unify data for cross-checking without requiring different data structures. In two years, “we pulled all the records from the 26 systems and that’s how we got 160 million records,” he said. “If you think about it, hundreds of tables, columns didn’t match, so we had to convert and map the data, and then we had to find millions of duplicate records.”

For example, the office had 8 million people in the separate systems, but after consolidation and cleanup, that number dropped to 2 million.

Because the office works with a lot of personally identifiable information and medical records, privacy and data security are imperative. The bureau adheres to FBI Criminal Justice Information Services requirements, everything is encrypted, and access to CCMS is controlled by the county, not a third party, Al Rawi said. When someone retires or changes departments, their account is automatically deactivated, and if someone who is logged into CCMS leaves their screen unattended for more than a few minutes, it automatically logs them out.

The system provides lawyers with what Al Rawi calls a digital twin of business processes. “The way we’ve implemented the system, we’ve made sure it’s exactly the same: the field names are the same, the process is the same, the feel and look are the same. It’s just digital, it’s not paper,” he said.

To achieve this, the office uses more than 60 custom objects on the Salesforce Lightning Platform. “Salesforce is both platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service, so software-as-a-service is the purpose-built functionality that can be used directly with setup,” but Lightning provides an extension for creating custom objects, Coleman said.

This allows the office to generate reports that break down client data by case, charge, race, gender, age, and location, which can be shared with the County Board of Supervisors to help inform decisions on law enforcement reform. justice,” said Al Rawi.

CCMS integrates with the other justice agencies that the public defender’s office works with. It connects to the court and probation systems so the office receives real-time updates, and it is connected to the district attorney’s system, which provides access to case discovery.

Overall, CCMS saves the office time and money, but “it’s the impact on people that is the massive ROI of the system,” said Al Rawi. “This system has literally saved residents from losing their jobs or even being homeless.”

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.