Work Unleashed: The Defender Services Office keeps justice going in the cloud

Work Unleashed: The Defender Services Office

Welcome to our Work Unleashed series: a collection of posts from Box executives and conversations with Box customers on navigating the "new normal" of work today. Here, you'll find insights and resources that enable your teams to do their best work, anywhere, anytime.

The Defender Services Office (DSO), a division of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts supports Federal Public Defender Organizations (FDOs) and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel Attorneys around the country. These legal teams represent indigent clients who are accused of committing federal crimes that range from drug trafficking to mortgage fraud to terrorism.

For these legal teams, it can occasionally be high-profile work, but more often, it's quite the opposite. "They do the work others sometimes scoff at," says Kelly Scribner, Assistant National Litigation Support Administrator. "But it's an absolutely necessary role. A lot of our clients are the ones who've been forgotten."

Prosecution of federal charges don't stop even in a time of international pandemic. Over the last several weeks, Scribner's team has been tasked with keeping research, administration, and the sharing of case material going mostly without the benefit of in-person collaboration. In fact, with physical offices and courts closed in the 94 federal districts across the U.S., clients are still being charged and hearings held virtually. Fortunately, the Defender Services Office already had the technology foundation in place to innovate this particular type of remote work. 

The infrastructure to take justice remote

A few years ago, the Defender Services Office started working with Box for a very simple reason: the U.S. Attorneys Office, on the other side of the courtroom, was using it. Because the U.S. Attorneys Office was sharing case information via Box, it made sense for the Defender Services Office to use Box, too. And "since the government was using it, we knew the level of security was up to necessary standards," says Scribner.

Once they began to use Box, the team rapidly witnessed how useful it was for sharing content and data with investigators, experts, and extended members of the legal team operating in the field. Data could easily be accessed by all legal teams rather than having to distribute copies of information on paper, which takes time and money.

Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cloud content management has become vital to the continued work of the Defender Services Office. "Our need for data sharing and remote access increased exponentially when almost all of our attorneys and staff became remote workers," says Scribner. But the VPN networks the organization had been using for in-office work were not designed for a shift to virtual teamwork. "After some level of panic," she continues, "we realized that we already had a great solution to tap into with Box." Scribner's team set about creating case folders and district folders in order to have a place to upload information quickly. Box quickly became an indispensable part of keeping the Defender Services Office operating.

Supporting clients and colleagues remotely

The ability to quickly set up a remote content-sharing process was a lifeline for Defender Services Office, but make no mistake: the transition from standard in-person legal work had its challenges. As Scribner describes, creating a personal connection with clients is critical for defense attorneys. As best they can under the circumstances, the organization has enabled that personal connection via video conferencing.

And within teams, that personal connection is equally important to collaboration and morale. It used to happen naturally as staff members interacted in the hallways of the office. Now, scheduled remote check-ins must intentionally include both work-related agenda items and some "personal positive bits," as Scribner puts it. She says, "Detailed feedback is also critical so team members understand that they're valued and that the time they spend on projects is appreciated."

To that end, during calls, she makes a particular point of acknowledging progress and milestones met. She also encourages an understanding that workdays may need to be structured very differently in this new remote paradigm, and that flexibility is important. 

The essential service of equal justice

Like many organizations right now, the Defender Services Office is scrambling to support team members and clients in a new paradigm. A pandemic doesn't stop representation from being needed and justice served. Scribner and her team are grateful they had the foundation of remote work in place, and have been able to continue to serve clients in need.

To learn more about how Box enables your teams to do their best work, check out ourWork Unleashed hub.

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