The Importance of Modernized Technology in Court Proceedings
Before entering the courtroom, the attorney relies on a court’s technology to electronically file and serve documents and obtain court records. Once inside the courtroom, lawyers, judges and court staff rely on court technology when attending and participating in proceedings, such as hearings, trials, conferences and other events, which are increasingly held at a distance. The lawyer must also take advantage of court infrastructure, such as document storage and transfer, to use exhibits and other documents during a proceeding.
I recently moderated a bar association panel, made up of state court judges, on how best to use existing technology in state court proceedings. The expert panel discussed several key considerations that warrant further investigation.
Does the court have compatible systems for electronic filing and case management?
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Electronic filing, while convenient, creates an element of uncertainty until the attorney can identify a filing as accepted on the court’s role, an uncertainty complicated by the risk of a technical problem with a submission. The lawyer must be able to quickly determine from the court docket whether the court has processed an electronic submission, or if not, he must be able to refile if necessary. Any delay in making this decision creates a risk that the lawyer will miss a filing deadline.
Judges must also be able to directly access all documents filed electronically. Without this access, judges run the risk of overlooking a key document or exhibit filed by counsel.
Therefore, courts must use a comprehensive system that combines the convenience of electronic filing with real-time access to court records. A court should use a single case management and electronic filing system; or, if not available, courts should integrate their existing electronic filing and court records systems. Otherwise, the risk of error exists and lawyers may choose to file in paper format (unless required) to minimize potential filing problems.
Can councils digitally submit documents in any format?
Court electronic filing systems generally require lawyers to use PDF format to electronically file documents and to limit file sizes. However, PDF format is not always available for digital evidence due to the size or format of the material involved. For example, electronic filing systems often do not accept photographs, emails, text messages, and audio or video recordings in original format.
Counsel should determine in advance the best way and time to submit documents electronically to ensure proper review by the court. This forces lawyers to ask if they can file documents using a USB drive, CD, shared cloud drive or other means. The lawyer should also determine if the court has compatible software or applications to access the documents using the lawyer’s preferred file format and, if so, to copy and modify the documents. In turn, courts should have the latest software and applications to review, access and use electronic submissions.
Even when a document is submitted electronically, is it accessible as the lawyer wishes?
The lawyer should understand in advance what happens to the documents and other exhibits after they are filed with the court. For example, the attorney should understand the court’s capabilities to know whether documents retain color characteristics after e-filing and whether the court can print one or all copies in color. If the lawyer electronically files large documents or multiple related documents, the lawyer must understand how the documents appear in court (such as the relationships between the related documents and the page numbering).
Lawyers often don’t have the ability to preview documents, using a court’s electronic filing system, and see how their submissions will appear to the judge and court staff. To minimize these issues, counsel may need to provide courtesy copies of filed documents where color is relevant and independently mark page numbers of exhibits and other related documents to ensure a filing is complete and reviewable as expected.
Do existing courthouse facilities limit the presentation of lawyers during a courtroom proceeding?
Lawyers should inspect the courtroom in advance to determine available equipment and technological features. This is especially important before trial, where the attorney often must use exhibits and other documents to convince a judge or jury. Even as courts adapt to the use of electronic methods, their physical facilities may lag behind. Courtrooms do not always have sufficient equipment or capacity, such as sufficient or nearby electrical outlets, display screens, computer cables or wireless Internet access. The construction or location of some courtrooms may interfere with a cell phone’s signal to contact other people or access the Internet.
Therefore, the lawyer must understand whether any shortcomings should be remedied and how to develop a back-up plan. For example, the lawyer must bring the necessary equipment, such as power strips, cables or a mobile hotspot. Lawyers should also consider the use of traditional means to present evidence, such as a whiteboard or the use of oversized paper versions of exhibits, particularly if internet access is not available or not available. is unreliable or if the courtroom lacks screens.
Can the court conduct complex proceedings remotely?
Many courts have adapted to the pandemic by using videoconferencing to conduct proceedings entirely or partially remotely. Although a court can use a video conferencing platform, this requires relying on the court’s existing infrastructure, which can present challenges unless the court has upgraded that infrastructure.
Lawyers should determine in advance whether court technology puts them at a disadvantage in a complex remote proceeding, such as a trial. For example, the court’s video conferencing platform may need to accommodate multiple participants (such as parties and witnesses), display sophisticated exhibits (such as high-resolution documents, videos, or simulations), and to provide or synchronize a means of recording the procedure. It may also require that the court, as the host, have sufficient bandwidth to hold the proceedings and place enough cameras and audio equipment inside the courtroom to avoid disadvantaging remote attendees. Otherwise, the lawyer may need any complex proceedings to be held in person.
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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and non-partisanship by principles of trust. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.