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Indiana Judges Association: Will paper remain at the end of the e-filing tunnel?

October 5, 2016

IJA-Dreyer-David“. . . when it goes, it really goes. It’s gone gone. A piece of paper can burn and you can still kind of get something from it. With a hard drive or a URL, when it’s gone, there is just zero recourse.”

Jason Scott, archivist and historian for the Internet Archive

The U.S. legal world, including Indiana courts, is heralding the dawn of the e-filing age, as well we should. Nothing in our known universe produces as much paper as the legal system and its related multi-governmental counterparts. Gutenberg’s first printing press in 1439 started the precipitous decline toward worldwide paper gridlock. But now, we are ending it. The obvious reasons are old news. Statistics show more than 10 percent of all documents are “lost” or “misfiled” (and that’s probably just in the Indiana Statehouse alone). Analysts have long documented that organizations spend millions of dollars each year recreating these lost files. Most significantly, we spend up to half of our time looking for information, but need only 5 to 15 percent of our time to read it.

The benefits of “going paperless” can be exciting. A municipal court in suburban Seattle recently reported saving $500,000 annually by e-filing. In Palm Beach, Florida, the courts saved $14,000 from just ordering less paper one year and overall saved more than $300,000 by using tablets, iPads and other efficient paperless devices.

Even the Veterans Administration reports that while medical costs have risen almost 40 percent, its costs per patient rose less than 1 percent due to its paperless system.

In my court, we never lose a file; we just don’t know where it is all the time. So when I finally find what I need, my time to read, research and rule is compromised. As court budgets become more challenged and our cases become more complicated, we have less time to manage information. Consequently, the Indiana Supreme Court prudently started e-filing in our appellate courts last year to begin Indiana’s conversion to the 21st century. Many counties and individual courts, including mine, are doing it now. New Trial Rule 86 is in place to allow it. All Indiana courts should be requiring e-filing by the end of 2018. Problem solved?

A meat-eating friend tells me that vegans hate food. I think that’s like saying alcoholics hate alcohol. They want it, but it’s a question of what is best rather than personal need. Similarly, lawyers hate paper. In the back of their minds, they still like it, but know it’s a paperless world. Lots of large litigation has convinced me that I want everything in the cloud, but I do better when I can cradle a physical brief. Is this passive-aggressive mentality justified or am I just a passé boomer?

Vint Cerf is a 73-year-old V.P. of Google, internet evangelist, and a father of the internet. Yet he warns of an imminent “digital dark age” in which all our stored information — records, photos, court documents, everything we can comprehend — will be lost because technology does not yet know how to save it. Will it be around 50 or 100 years from now? No one knows. Even the Veterans Administration has ongoing procedures for paper applications. What does Mr. Cerf recommend? Printing out paper and storing it, just like the old days.

Court systems may fare better than most because there are multiple record-keepers; law firms, government agencies and private parties all have records of the same documents in each case. When future technology hopefully develops systems and processes to preserve and read outmoded digital bits, then the problem may be truly solved. But until then, paper might still be the persistent bottom line.

Paper does not need batteries, can’t be hacked, and it is unclear whether it is practical to rely on everything being paperless. Regardless, lawyers and judges alike must be mindful of the vast advantages of e-filing and try to adjust accordingly.

If you need to print it out, print what you need, but be selective.

Enjoy the convenience of e-filing — looking up information anywhere anytime. Now your friends and family won’t know you are reading a brief while watching a ball game.

Shop and pick a good organizer app for document clipping, saving, writing notes, etc. This will help counsel, the parties and the court.

Be patient. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t be as paperless as you feel you need to be. Gutenberg’s printing world wasn’t built in a day, either.

Embrace the paperless world — it’s already here, for better or for worse. It’s our job to make it for the better. Our legal system depends on it.•

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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