December 31, 1996 By Richard Power
Lawyers, clerks, judges and court administrators are generally well-educated folks. They just haven't learned computer technology. That's easy enough to fix with a little effort.
Much of the "legal tech" information currently being disseminated to lawyers and judges is, unfortunately, erroneous and outdated. This has led to extremely poor utilization of technology by our judicial system.
By correcting this situation, our judicial system could take advantage of dazzling possibilities such as low-cost transcripts with embedded videos, graphics and sound recordings -- all held on a single disk slipped into a shirt pocket. Transcript copies that now cost thousands of dollars (often paid by the taxpayers) could be produced in minutes for $20 and shipped by e-mail or in a floppy disk mailer bearing two stamps. Time-wasting augmentation and exhibit copying procedures could be a thing of the past. Huge pleadings could be filed with trial courts by e-mail and disseminated electronically, increasing speed and reducing costs.
In order to realize remarkable savings, we need standards. This is really another part of the educational process because the standards need to be devised, then taught. Computers are fantastic at handling standardized material, and the human mind works much more efficiently if it has standardized ways for handling tasks. Microsoft Windows, for example, and its standardized menus brought order out of chaos for PC users. Standards for file naming, file preparation, and record handling in general can similarly bring incredible efficiency gains in our judicial system.
Let's look at one area of standardization -- file preparation, naming and handling. Clerks, not reporters, should be the central managers for both reporters' and clerks' transcripts. If clerks keep track of current page number status centrally, there will be no more guessing at where the last reporter left off numbering the pages. And no more wasted time by appellate attorneys and courts wondering if the blank between page 756 and 800 is really blank.
And no more duplicated page numbers. If there is a change of reporters, the new reporter takes up the process exactly where the last one stopped. Computers can easily change starting page numbers on succeeding segments before any transcripts are disseminated. Those who have dealt with the process know better than to underestimate the problem of locating reporters later, getting them to provide copies quickly, or getting errors corrected efficiently.
Computer file names need to be standardized too. Computers work purely by logic. They read file names from left to right. If this is not taken into account, files which are named by date of reporting may appear in a strange order in a computer's file folder structure.
If you name files by month-day-year you will find, to your surprise, that, in a case with proceedings spanning several years, all the January files for 1995, 1996 and 1997 are ahead of the December 1995 files. This is easily fixed. Start with the year.
950617 is often used to indicate a file for June 17, 1995. But we have the "Year 2000" problem looming! No problem. Try 19950617.asc to indicate a file in ASCII format for June 17, 1995. 20000101.asc will then be sorted by your computer to follow 19991231.asc. This approach should be adopted as a nationwide standard.
It would be best to have all computer files for a single day of court pieced together electronically and the total disseminated as a single file bearing the date in the file name. Before this is done, the interim files, such as one reporter's segment of a morning trial session, could be given temporary names by the reporters.
You may have noted the .asc file extension and thought, "Now why would anyone even consider
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