Letting reality catch up

Jun 25 2015

For the courts team, we always knew that feasibility was going to be the hardest part of our process. Our team is trying to create a product, called DatabasedNC, that will digitize and file all of North Carolina’s District Court records. Currently, these records sit in paper format and have to be accessed at the county courthouses. After talking to a lot of people, we were confident that our idea was desirable and that people would be willing to pay for our product. The biggest question throughout the whole process was how we would actually make it happen.

This week we talked to a founder of another popular legal analytics tool. We asked questions about prototyping and what his company had done. His advice to us

The Courts team visited Chatham County Justice System to gather court records to analyze real records for their prototype.

The Courts team visited Chatham County Justice System to gather court records to analyze real records for their prototype.

was to just get started– to start collecting documents and to start building a database. By doing so, we can see what our challenges are going to be and how to address them. Rather than sitting around and carefully planning out each step of our process, he encouraged us to start moving and to let the plan work itself out along the way.

So we began to make our first moves. The courts team took trips to the nearby courthouses. First, we  went to the Chapel Hill Courthouse, located just a few minutes away. Next, we ventured to our county’s seat in Hillsborough and went to the courthouse. There we got to sit in on a few hearings, learn how to pull records and meet with clerks and lawyers. Most recently, we went to the Chatham County Justice Center where we got to meet with the head clerk and to see their records system.

These trips unlocked a plethora of new questions for us to deal with. Some of these questions, we would have never thought of if we weren’t moving and making decisions. We learned about the archaic computer systems that the courts currently use, we got to see how lawyers use records in courts and we were given access to the courthouses’ files which allowed us to test our process. A lot of the problems that we encountered we never could have planned for because we had never thought of them. We simply had to put our ideas into action and find problems.

Jonathan Morris and teammate Emily Gregoire scanning court records obtained from their trip at the Chatham County Justice Center.

Jonathan Morris and teammate Emily Gregoire scanning court records obtained from their trip at the Chatham County Justice Center.

It seems counterintuitive to try to find problems, but if you wait for problem to seek you out you’ll be way behind. Move quickly and find your problems quickly.

Our team has been trying to continue moving, even if we aren’t sure what direction we are moving in. One of our contacts told us, “Start something and let reality catch up to it.” Our team is trying to keep our ideas moving so that our product keeps moving. Don’t let plans and strategy bog you down from actually doing real work and solving real problems. Rather than carefully planning everything, keep taking steps and watch your product progress.


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