Notes from the Technology Trenches - December, 1997

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.


This has been an interesting month on the legal technology front (I have no knowledge of what is happening on the illegal front). For starters, Judge Hiller B. Zobel, in Massachusetts, decided to publish his ruling in the "nanny case" on the Internet, so that it would have a wide dissemination and, I'm sure, the kind of immediacy the Internet provides. From reading Wendy Leibowitz's account in the latest National Law Journal ("High-Tech Need, No-Tech Courts: Judges Move Slowly to the Web," December 1, 1997, p. B11.), however, this was anything but easy to do.

Evidently, the morning the decision was to be published, the ISP the court retained experienced a power failure so that the court had to fax the opinion for publication. Soon after the decision was faxed, the ISP recovered and did publish the decision online. This is a perfect example of how technology, when it doesn't work, really lets us down.

Another interesting note here: the court had no Internet e-mail connection, not an unusual situation these days. As I discussed in a previous column, finding lower court decisions online is very frustrating, although a number of state courts do have Web sites. Some of these sites do have appellate decisions available, but few, if any, have lower court decisions. A comprehensive list of these, with links, can be found in the annotated bibliography, "Electronic Access to Court Documents," found at www.maricopa.gov/lawlibrary/docs/access.html.

At the same time that the courts, in general, are technologically challenged, some, particularly at the federal level, are gearing up for the filing of court documents electronically. These "electronic court filing" (ECF) projects, in the words of one court official involved, represent a dramatic "paradigm shift" in the way courts and attorneys will operate in the future. Most attorneys still file papers the old-fashioned way and it is anyone's guess as to how quickly either the courts or attorneys will embrace ECF.

For information professionals who are already quite comfortable with technology and quite aware of its benefits and risks, the move to ECF may seem like a no-brainer. However, since all of us also know that many attorneys are relatively conservative when it comes to change, it is going to take some getting used to. In the meantime, you can read all about it on the Web in a number of places, including the Maricopa site at www.maricopa.gov/lawlibrary/docs/efile.html.

A number of courts have also posted information about their individual ECF projects. Check out the U. S. District Court, District of New Mexico's site www.nmcourt.fed.us/dcdocs, for example. The Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, www.nysb.uscourts.gov, has a number of documents that you can view in PDF format and the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has just published its rules regarding ECF. These rules, published November 12, 1997, can be found at LJX's site, www.nylj.com/links/ednyfile.html. The court does have a Web site, www.nyed.uscourts.gov, where it will be posting information about ECF, but it is currently a work in progress.

On the international front, courts in Singapore, Australia and Canada have also developed sophisticated electronic filing systems. A description of Singapore's system is available at the government's Web site, www.gov.sg/agc/agcciss/lawnet/lawnet.htm.

Bradford Hillis who discussed this briefly on LLRX a while back, has published a very comprehensive report on ECF, "Internet Experiments in Electronic Court Filing," at www.wolfenet.com/~dhillis/efile/toc.htm. While it is a rather long document (over 300 pages, including various appendices), he has exhaustively researched all of the ECF projects currently in existence, both nationally and internationally, and it is well worth reviewing.

By the way, not all state courts are technologically challenged. The Florida Supreme Court is using the Internet to broadcast, via Real Audio and Real Video, appellate arguments. For more information, if you're a subscriber to The New York Times on the Web www.nytimes.com, the CyberTimes section covered this on November 13, 1997, in an article by Carl S. Kaplan, "For Court Action on the Net, Florida Project is Steps Ahead." I didn't see in the hard copy edition, but perhaps I missed it.

On a less serious note, jurors in New York State courts will now have something else to do besides twiddling their thumbs while waiting to be called. The Office of Court Administration has just announced publication of a 12-page newsletter for jurors, Jury Pool News, to be published four times a year. OCA, as it is familiarly known, has even hired a writer to edit it. Hm. I wonder if jurors will be able to call it up on their laptops.

Before I forget. Some Internet Explorer aficionados have told me that they have had no problem with the Adobe Acrobat Reader, although one did hasten to advise me that he had a very fast connection which may have made the difference. I have gone back and done a few tests and it still is a bit slow -- guess I'll have to get a faster connection. Right. I'll just continue to use Netscape as my primary browser, thank you.