AND CHARLIE EVERYWHERE
This article has nothing to do with the slayings in Paris, but like Wikileaks says, you ain't Charlie
unless you're ready to post the most offensive cartoons the dead cartoonists drew.
This article originally ran in the 1.8.15 issue of Metroland
Don’t know about you, but I hardly use paper anymore.
When I opened my own law practice almost
eleven years ago, I was going through paper like there was no tomorrow.
I bought big boxes of bulk printing paper,
bought ink cartridges 5 at a time, had piles of envelopes, binders, staples,
paper clips, multi-colored folders; I drove to warehouses and bought big filing
cabinets; my most prominent pieces of office equipment were my printer, my
shredder, and my 3-hole punch.
I had a
small library of reference books.
reward card held the coveted first position in my wallet.
are long gone.
Almost everything I do,
from correspondence, to court filings, to filings at the Patent and Trade
Office, the Copyright Office and various state agencies, is all done on the
With the notable exception of
the Copyright Office, which hosts the most atrocious, clunky, and
user-unfriendly online filing system ever devised, these sites typically
provide seamless filing and payment systems.
This eliminates not just paper, but going to the post office or some
government office building to hand something to a bored, lifeless civil
servant. These days, if I use two little packages of printing paper a year,
that’s a lot.
I haven’t opened a filing cabinet
I use my 4-in-1 printer
primarily to scan things into my computer.
If I need to fax something (a rarity), I scan it and use an online fax
Virtually all of my research is
done online. I’ve moved my binder clips into the kitchen, and enlisted them for
closing food packages.
I can practice law from my
couch, or anywhere that has wifi.
minor annoyance when I learn I actually have to file a physical document
Are we living in the stone age here or what?
State and local court systems, chronically
underfunded, are just now starting to transition to electronic filing, but it’s
Last year I had to
do a state appellate filing that required me to produce something like 11 bound
copies of my brief and the trial court record, literally thousands of pages,
with special colored-paper covers, and some weird page numbering system.
I was tearing my hair out trying to get it
all right, and then loaded up a couple of heavy boxes and drove them to the
It was expensive,
time-consuming, nerve-wracking and fundamentally unnecessary.
In my mind I could see the court clerks
unbinding one copy of my filing, scanning it into the court’s computer system,
and throwing everything else away.
what I would do.
with some excitement that I can report the U.S. Supreme Court just announced
that it, too, was going to begin building an online filing system.
The Court is legendarily Ludditetic; several
justices don’t use computers or even cellphones, they write draft briefs
long-hand, they send hand-written notes to each other.
The Court’s severe lack of computer and
digital literacy regularly goes on display when there’s an oral argument in a case
involving high-tech issues—questions are garbled or nonsensical, and often a
justice will admit, in open court, that he or she doesn’t understand what the
case is about.
It’s kind of funny and
extremely scary, when you consider that these are the folks with the final say
in matters involving intellectual property, privacy, telecommunications, pretty
much everything involving a high-tech world that they neither understand nor
are active participants in.
the Justices’ clerks, typically recent law-school grads, are a little more hep
to that jazzy digital noise all the kids are so crazy about.
For now, they’re our only hope that the
Court’s decisions will make any sense.
Oh yeah, and
you won’t get to see any of this embarrassing court behavior because the
Supreme Court doesn’t allow broadcasts of its sessions.
Which is ridiculous and a whole ‘nother
The good news is that starting
sometime next year, all filings to the Court will be done electronically as
well as (for now) on paper.
won’t impact any of our day-to-day lives, the Court also promises to post all
court filings on its website, where the public can see them for free.
Previously, we had to use hyper-expensive
online services like Westlaw or Lexis to get these documents, or scrounge
around online to see if anyone had posted them.
To most of
you, this must seem banal, and almost like reading something that was written
15 years ago.
But for legal-minded folk,
it’s a big deal.
Huge-a! And maybe the
efficiencies this will bring to the Court will breed a little bit of an
understanding and appreciation on the part of the Justices about how the world
actually functions these days.
Paul Rapp is an
affable Berkshire Mountain lawyer who is about to find out what a -40 degree
wind chill evening is like.