Recently, the Law Times mocked Department of Justice lawyers for complaining about having to put up with old smartphones – by pointing out that they still bring wheelbarrows full of paper into courtrooms. The September edition of LawPro magazine had a nice piece on how to manage your inbox more efficiently. And it referred readers to two fine print books for more information. Contrast this to the many 2015 technology predictions which forecast the end email, new ways of communicating and collaborating, and the continuing transition to video rather than textual content in our digital lives.
Are lawyers falling behind?
It seems that way. The practice of law has been a leader in some areas of technology, but is a dinosaur in others. Lawyers have embraced electronic case and precedent databases, case management and billing tools and, of course, smartphones. Most law firms have a paper-less ambition and are moving towards a digital preference for document and records management. Lawyers research, draft and obtain instructions using electronic tools. But when lawyers need to present arguments, examine witnesses or adduce documentary evidence, most work with paper. Somewhere in the legal workflow, the technology is abandoned.
One reason for this is that the courts have failed to lay the foundation for progress. With inadequate funding and a crushing list of other priorities, electronic registries, courtrooms and proceedings have been neglected. Yes, there have been pilot projects and electronic trials, and tinkering with rules to allow for electronic filing and service. But those initiatives have been reactive and ad hoc.
It takes time and effort to move to a fully digital practice. For many lawyers there is little point in making that investment if they have to print it all for the court anyway. It is time for a more foundational and proactive change in the courts – one that makes paper the exception, not the norm.