A quagmire is a swamp. A bog. A soft, mushy, messy patch of earth that is half land, half water and not enough of either to give it clear definition. If you live in New England, you can probably imagine the cranberry bogs that are famously spread throughout the region as a prime example of a quagmire. Not surprisingly, the term is also used to describe the situation entities get themselves into when they are involved in the type of trouble that meets all of those attributes. The kind of problem where you get sucked into turmoil so slowly that you barely notice, only to eventually be sucked into the earth as the mud that has been sticking to your boots for months finally weighs you down so much that there is nowhere to go. In many cases, court systems can find themselves in a records storage and management quagmire.
Over the past few decades, or centuries in some cases, court systems throughout the United States have maintained paper records detailing key information about trials. At first glance, keeping paperwork on site made perfect sense. During trials, judges and clerks had access to the records they needed to understand the case and they could research past trials from the region with similar issues to inform their judgments. The system worked. But over the past few years, many of the attics and basements filled with paper records have turned into quagmires that are overwhelming courthouses, leading to structural damages, overwhelming records management challenges and a system that sometimes feels so antiquated that it is easy to wonder how it has lasted so long.
When a teenager at school can grab a smartphone and research old case files for a research paper while a judge is being given paper packets that were specially collected by a full-time clerk, the problem is clear. But it is always easier to fall into a quagmire than it is to escape. When you first enter you haven’t gathered all kinds of muck on your clothes from patches with more mud than solid ground. You also aren’t tired of trying to keep going for an extended period without relief. In many courtrooms around the country, clerks are overworked and budgets are stretched to their limits trying to keep up with outdated records management processes, few have the resources needed to take on an ambitious new project.
Because the resources really aren’t there to establish sweeping digitization projects that also meet security and regulatory demands throughout the legal industry – not to mention paper’s vital role in many facets of operation – seeking relief in more manageable phases is necessary. Working with a records management company can meet this need for many court systems feeling overwhelmed by their records storage predicaments.