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August 2011

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


Get Your COAT On!

COAT, the Chambers Online Automation Training

Prepare and docket an opinion, learn about the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system, work with PDFs, leverage your electronic environment to share files with your email: training on all those topics and more are available to judges and court employees from their desktops through COAT, the Chambers Online Automation Training. Since COAT began in August 2008, Judiciary users have completed over 7,000 lessons online. And now COAT has even more to offer.

This month, the list of available training modules will double to include lessons on Microsoft Word software, working remotely, computer safety, and separate module series for bankruptcy and appellate courts.

The audio/video training modules fall into 13 general lesson areas. Few run longer than 10 minutes, many clock in at around 3 minutes. Each module is organized by job-related function and includes a demonstration and a guided simulation.

COAT began with a desire by the Judicial Conference Information Technology Committee to create better IT training for judges and chambers staff. It is part of the FJC/AO Judicial IT Training Initiative.

“At conferences, we’d present brief ‘show and tell’ videos of IT tools that could be useful in chambers and they were always very well received,“ said Magistrate Judge David Nuffer (D. Utah). “It seemed to me there was a need for training videos on select automation topics that could be made available on demand, on line, where judges and staff could view them.”

With a grant from the Edwin L. Nelson Local Initiatives Program and the collaborative efforts of the Judiciary’s Automation Trainers Community of Practice, the Federal Judicial Center’s training experts, and judges like Nuffer, who suggested topics for modules, 40 audio and video modules were produced. That number will double with the most recent additions.

“Our judge-advisors recommend modules they think might be useful for chambers staff, as do our IT developers who work with staff in their courts,” said Luta Pleiss, software trainer in the District of Nebraska. Pleiss helped launch COAT in 2008 and has worked with judges and trainers to develop modules.

All the modules demonstrate programs or skills using examples judges or staff will encounter in their daily work; for example, using WordPerfect to format an opinion, or manipulating PDF documents when finalizing an opinion.

“We teach from a chambers-oriented perspective,” said Pleiss. “Users learn with the types of documents they actually use.”

When Nuffer trains new magistrate judges during their initial orientation, he asks them to log into COAT and complete one or two lessons. “It’s great reinforcement for classroom training,” he said.

And because funding is not available for chambers staff to travel for training, “COAT provides training that would not otherwise be done,” said Nuffer.

COAT also can be a new employee’s introduction to the workings of the federal Judiciary. Because it’s not on the Judiciary’s internal Data Communications Network, it can be accessed from any computer—providing you have the Web address, a password, and an ID—even before employment starts.

“Before a new law clerk shows up for the first day in chambers, judges can assign the first few modules, “ said Nuffer. “It’s a great way to get new hires up to speed.”

“Law clerks are hired every year, and every year we have to train them,” agrees Pleiss. “With COAT and online access, we don’t have to continually recreate training.”

By the end of August, the COAT’s Web address will be changing and Judiciary users will be notified by their court’s training coordinator or IT trainer of the new address.

COAT’s training modules, while originally geared to chambers staff, are a valuable resource for everyone in the Judiciary. The new modules make even more instruction available. “I learn every time I teach,” said Nuffer. “And I learned a lot from the new modules. We want to share that.”