Lawyers and technology: the two have not always mixed well, but in recent years, the tide seems to be changing. As technology becomes more pervasive, the legal industry has slowly but surely begun to embrace it and lawyers are increasingly incorporating emerging technologies into their practices.
And it’s not just lawyers. Judges are following suit. Whether it’s federal court of appeals judges using trial presentation technology or iPads in the courtroom or a federal district court judge using technology as part of her day-to-day routine on the bench, technology is helping judges work more efficiently and effectively.
For example, another judge who jumped onto the technology bandwagon is Justice Thomas Stander of the 7th Judicial District Supreme Court in Monroe County, New York. The move from paper to digital was the most difficult for him, but once accomplished, there was no going back.
As he explains, the benefits of going paperless were immediately evident: “The transition from books (many years ago) was probably the most difficult but in truth, as the programs got easier to use, the old ways didn’t make any sense. The transition from paper calendar also took some getting used to, but again when everyone has the calendar at their fingertips all the time, the old ways can’t continue.”
Mobility and 24/7 access to case files has made all the difference to Justice Stander. Because of technology, he can obtain important information and communicate with his staff with just the click of a button: “Being able to access to my computer remotely and have constant contact with my email server allows me to keep abreast of the status of cases and to work from home on weekends without the additional travel time to and from chambers.”
In addition to using technology to streamline his work, he also takes steps to ensure that technology simplifies the lives of the attorneys who practice before him. “We file all of my decisions in the Monroe County Court office along with supporting papers,” he says. “And, in order to ensure that the attorneys involved in a case don’t read about their case in the paper before they get the decision, we convert the decision to PDF and send the attorneys of record a PDF copy of the decision just before we send it to be recorded.”
Justice Stander believes that the advance of technology is inevitable and that lawyers need to understand both how it works and take steps to use it in their practices. He explains that failing to do so simply isn’t an option: “Mandatory e-filing is coming and more and more contact with clients and the courts will require electronic communications. You can’t rely on your secretary to know how to use technology — you have to know how to get that last minute or weekend-prepared document out to the court or client. You have to use it if you want to practice law in the next 20 years (and beyond).”
For lawyers — or judges — who remain hesitant about incorporating technology into their workplace, he suggests a simple starting point: “Put a computer on your desk, pick a couple relatively simple programs, such as a calendar and legal research, and start! Don’t worrying about making mistakes or ‘ruining’ the computer — someone can always fix it.”
So that’s how one judge uses technology.