charging appropriate amounts [of money] when dealing with paper. They will be forced by declining economic realities to do things more efficiently."
The search for efficiency was at the heart of a study prepared by Andersen Consulting, which concluded that if 80 percent of 19.1 million lawsuits in 1991 had been filed electronically, attorneys and their clients could have saved $646 million. Andersen Consulting calculated it could make money and still offer a savings to the legal profession by creating and operating JusticeLINK, which will be available to attorneys on a subscription basis, allowing subscribers to:
+ Receive official filings, pleadings, briefs, complaints and other court documents.
+ Receive exhibits and evidence.
+ Send notices to any other subscriber.
+ Electronically charge filing fees.
+ Access any JusticeLINK database designated as "public."
+ Send e-mail to law firms, other courts or any JusticeLINK subscriber.
+ Utilize the digital imaging capabilities of the system.
+ Publish JusticeLINK databases for public access.
+ Allow judges to file decisions electronically.
In addition, papers filed by attorneys who are not subscribers will be scanned and turned into electronic documents, and electronic filings will be available in printed form to attorneys and judges who need them.
TESTING THE CONCEPT
Three judges, nine law firms and about 30 lawyers are participating in the pilot project, which is limited to personal injury and foreclosure cases and will be scrutinized to determine if including a case in the system meets the needs of everyone. The JusticeLINK system is based on Lotus Development's Corp.'s Lotus Notes workgroup interface, and has the participation of AT&T; and Compaq Computer Corp.
"The goal is to bring the justice community into the infocosm," said M. Kenneth Bien, the Sacramento, Calif.-based managing partner of the Justice and Public Safety Team at Andersen Consulting. "The legal profession seems to be ready, but it remains to be seen how receptive attorneys are and whether they derive any benefit from it. We need some hard data.
"The pilot project also will determine the cost of subscription, what the market will bear and what the value is, what kind of revenue structure must be in place to support it, and if we can make money on it," Bien said. "The court wants to know that too."
Judge Arthur M. Ahalt, the supervising judge for civil cases and the court's technology coordinator, said he and other judges want to know if they can rely on a paperless system. Ahalt said he has been working on getting such a project moving for three years, and has been thinking about streamlining the filing process since first entering the courthouse as a lawyer in 1967.
"About 50 percent of the cost of running the court is attributed to moving paper, so there are tremendous potential savings," he said. "The other judges are excited about the prospect, but they want to see it work. There's an element of healthy skepticism here, but if it works, it means we won't be paper dependent. We won't need a paper file that has to be brought to us by staff. We will be able to look at files electronically, and that will be wonderful."
Ahalt added that he and his colleagues on the bench have been wrestling with ideas to make information more easily available to the public, at a reduced cost to consumers and taxpayers. It is obvious, he said, that expanding the paper process, and adding more personnel to handle the increased deluge of paper, will only add to the problem rather than solving it. "