Level of Govt: State.
Function: Case filing and management.
Problem/situation: Courthouses awash with paper related to cases.
Solution: Electronic filing and management.
Jurisdiction: Maryland Circuit Court.
Vendors: Andersen Consulting, Lotus Corp., AT&T; and Compaq Computer Corp.
Contact: Jim McMillan, National Center for State Courts 804/253-2000; Ken Bien, Andersen Consulting 916/444-6700; Suzanne James, Prince George's County, 301/952-3708; Judge Ahalt, 301/952-4520.
by James Evans
The paper industry won't be happy. But even the techno-phobic legal profession was bound to step into the computer and telecommunications era sooner or later.
Lawyers and judges generate a blizzard of paper documents daily, all needing filing, sorting and indexing for later retrieval. The justice system in particular is sagging under the weight of its paper load at a time when the courts have fewer resources to hire staff to deal with an avalanche of complaints, briefs and motions. Clearly, with advanced database technology and the ability to send and receive electronic documents, there must be a more efficient and less expensive way to conduct business.
To demonstrate how technology can help mitigate these issues, the National Center for State Courts and a group of private companies led by Andersen Consulting are sponsoring a system called JusticeLINK. Since last May, the Circuit Court in Prince George's County, Md., has been conducting a 90-day experiment to accept electronic filings and place them in a court database, which is accessible to all parties and judges involved in the case, thus eliminating the need to make a trip to the courthouse. Nearly 20 years after the personal computer revolution erupted, this is the only state court looking at electronic filing on a systemwide basis.
"There are other efforts going on, but this is the first full implementation," said Jim McMillan, director of the court technology laboratory at the National Center for State Courts. "Of course, we would like to see as many litigators on the system as possible since that makes everyone more efficient and effective. But we have a big selling job ahead of us."
SELLING THE CONCEPT
Part of that selling job is convincing lawyers and judges that paper is expensive to use - taking a toll on everyone connected to the justice system. "Preparing documents for transmission on paper has been proven in many studies to be as much as 200 percent more costly per page than sending them electronically," McMillan said. "But private litigators usually don't understand those costs. They simply pass the time and cost of preparing documents on to their clients. They may even view electronic filing as costing them income since it would lessen the time it would take for them to prepare documents."
McMillan hopes market forces will encourage lawyers to adopt technological advances at a faster pace and move Prince George's County-type experiments from pilot projects to working models. "In other businesses, the more efficient people have more time to seek additional business and can advertise that they use the latest technology to lower their customer's costs," he said. "Time will tell if and when that dynamic of the market will apply to the legal profession."
McMillan added that the courts also have to alter their ways. If they remain dependent on paper filing, the cost of the justice system will become prohibitive to the public. "Our projection is that the courts can't afford to do business on paper. They will have to start