Back in 2016 County House Research Operations Manager Phil Bryer spent a week on the road in Massachusetts filling in for one of our in-court researchers. His notes from the field became the basis for “Hug Your Researcher!“, one of the Tip Sheet’s most popular pieces ever. There have since been major changes in Massachusetts, so the Tip Sheet caught up with Phil for an update.
[TS]: Your “Hug Your Researcher!” piece is legendary; one of the most read articles in Tip Sheet history. What’s changed in Massachusetts since your experiences there in 2016?
[PB]: It is not an overstatement to say that research in Massachusetts has been completely transformed. The Mass Courts have digitized the bulk of their district court records and made them available through terminals in the courthouses. This is similar to what had already been available for superior courts. This makes a huge difference for turnaround time because we are not waiting for clerks to pull records. The vast majority of the information is available through the in-court terminal. That means clears are usually within 24 hours and records between 24 and 48 hours.
Your experience from 2016 required A LOT of driving around and waiting on people. It sounded frustrating and tiring. What does the process look like now?
If you can pardon the pun, we’re miles away from that now. In the new system, our researchers arrive at the courthouse and get the information directly from the terminals. Each researcher travels with a mobile office system that includes scanning functionality, allowing them to transmit abstracts or digital copies to the County House Research office where our records associates put the information into our system. The information is sent to the client through one of our integrations like Accio Data, FRS, or ClearStar, or we can enter it into their proprietary systems if that is what they want. This is really the way the mobile office concept was meant to work when we developed it years ago. It is very satisfying to be able to transmit the information directly to the main office as soon as possible after we get it.
Is all district court information available through court terminals?
No, some records, especially the oldest records, still require the pulling of the physical files. That’s one of the advantages of maintaining a fleet of researchers. Older cases are prone to inconsistencies because of the migration from the old system. Our researchers have the experience and knowledge to be able to discern if additional information is required. If there is information missing or something doesn’t make sense, our researchers go directly to the district court whenever necessary to verify the information or have the record pulled. So this is a very important thing to keep in mind. Sometimes you need the courthouse to confirm dates of birth or other inconsistencies. “Take out the doubt” have been words to live by at County House Research since the company started. Being able to search from courthouse terminals is a game changer but as in-court research professionals we know that sometimes there is no substitute for going to the court.
It sounds like research in Massachusetts has gotten much more fun. Is there anything you want to add?
I don’t know if fun is the right word. It’s certainly more satisfying to be able to provide our clients with the information they need quickly and accurately. Being able to search on courthouse terminals also means that our researchers can put the professional skills they have developed over many years toward the research rather than driving from courthouse to courthouse. Ultimately, it’s that experience and expertise that clients rely on so I’m excited that the changes in Massachusetts let us show just how amazing our team of researchers is.