How has technology affected the courts? A great deal. Today, courts face a myriad of new technologies that challenge the rules and procedures of the traditional courts and create challenges for judges to administer. How has this affected the way courts operate? In some ways, the courts have responded by granting broad new powers to their judges in areas that the courts never before considered.
For instance, in an effort to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business, many courts have started tracking e-mailed pleadings and other documents. This gives courts the ability to quickly analyze and access electronically stored documents in an effort to produce lower filing costs for the courts. However, the courts have always done these things and more traditionally via paper. Now, because of the power computers have provided, they have the capability to make changes to these practices as well.
How about software designed to help courts analyze and make decisions regarding electronic and online spreadsheets, voice files and other computer data? This software was originally designed to help attorneys prepare witness statements, exhibits and briefs for trials. The problem arose when it was discovered that the software actually prevented courts from properly examining these types of documents. The rules governing these issues are still in place and are not likely to change any time soon.
What about the Internet and online access to court dockets and other legal documents? Again, the courts found that some rules required them to ban the use of certain computer programs. At first, there was a war. However, the war was lost when Congress, fearful of new laws being passed that would restrict Internet use, passed a law in the House and Senate which made it illegal for the government to ban or limit the use of software designed to enhance judicial efficiency. In short, courts have found a way to use technology to their advantage without having to worry about making changes to the rules themselves.
What about the future of computers and courtrooms? Some believe that there will be a day when all those computers in all those court houses will be linked together using a high speed network. Documents can be downloaded from one computer and printed on another computer. What this means is that legal briefs, expert reports and even plea bargains could be prepared on a laptop in the courthouse and then sent to lawyers sitting in another part of the country.
Some fear that this will mean a major change in the way courts decide cases. Some law firms are already using email and PDF documents to prepare their cases. Others are converting digital photographs into legal briefs. Will all of this be altered by advances in technology? Not likely.
Changes in technology are always inevitable. As technology increases in usefulness and in sophistication, it also increases the cost of certain types of software. There will always be a price tag attached to any new technology. However, the costs related to computer software in courts have been much higher than they were 10 years ago.
Advances in computer software and other hardware continue to make it easier to conduct legal proceedings and to do them more efficiently. The real question is whether the courts will accept these changes or not. If they do accept them, the impact on the courts will be nothing like what critics of “net metering” and other Internet usage practices have warned us about. If they don’t accept these changes, the impact will be felt across the country.
Some experts worry that the high costs of computer software will force courts to turn to the private sector for help in managing their data and in conducting legal proceedings. A private sector company might be able to provide services that the courts currently cannot afford. The worry is that these companies will start asking fees for anything that they do that enhances the services provided by the courts. This could cause a huge breakdown in the relationship between the two parties.
Computer software can help the courts system to save money. It can also help the parties to manage records electronically. When a paper trail is no longer needed, the need for paper trails disappears. This is another reason why people are afraid of changes in the court system.
Experts are not too worried though. Changes in computer software are not likely to cause huge costs for either side. This is because there are many ways in which the new software can be designed to work for the benefit of both the parties involved. Improvements can be made to the program that will make it more compatible with the needs of the particular court system. Changes can be made to help those who are technologically challenged. Those who want a paperless court system can expect to get one because there is software that will allow them to access documents online without having to print them out.