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April 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

District Court Offers Mobile Version of Its Website


Like most federal courts, the Northern District of Illinois created its website long before the advent of e-filing and the proliferation of hand-held computers.

But on March 1, it became what is believed to be the first federal court to offer a mobile version of its website.

The mobile version, made possible by specially designed software, allows visitors using a PDA, BlackBerry, or other hand-held device to navigate the Chicago-based court's website just as if using a desk-bound computer.

"It's information for those on the move," said Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins. "It's a nice addition to what we've had."

The district court began considering a revamp of its website in early 2007, and decided to survey attorneys about the changes they would recommend. "The prevalence of e-filing gave us a ready-made list of addresses where we could send the online survey," said Ted Newman, the court's judicial support manager. "We sent out 5,000 surveys to randomly selected e-mail addresses, and received more than 1,200 responses—a 24.7 percent response rate."

Work on upgrading the website began in October 2007, with programmer Arnold Dizon, who joined the court that month, playing a big role. When the revamped website debuted on March 1, it featured, among other innovations, a new search capability and a fresher "What's New" entry.

"We learned from the survey that we had to pay attention to the 'What's New' listings because items can grow stale, like leftovers in a refrigerator," Newman said.

Another innovation was the mobile version, which had been one of the changes requested by a majority of the lawyers who responded to the survey.

In consulting other federal court clerks, Dobbins learned that some were considering the creation of website mobile versions, but none reported having put one in place.

"Reaching the current site using a BlackBerry is cumbersome at best, and often completely impractical," Newman reported in summarizing the survey's results for Chief Judge James Holderman last September. "The use of hand-held devices by attorneys has grown rapidly, and there may be a good deal of interest in the ability to reach the website using this type of device."

Systems Manager Mark Tortorici said that once the court decided to go forward, "We asked Arnold to hit the most important things for those attorneys who might be on the road or otherwise away from their office, and who quickly needed to check the court's daily calendar, or the clerk's office phone number, or where they might be in a judge's daily call."

The mobile version "offers a totally different layout" for users of hand-held devices, Tortorici said. And the website's software detects when a hand-held device is being used, so the availability of the mobile layout is automatic and seamless.

While designed with lawyers in mind, the mobile version is available to any member of the public with a hand-held device. "We received quite a bit of positive feedback so far," Dobbins reported.