VirtualCourthouse; Issue 4.1
Building an Electronic Case File
Defining the Elements
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Building an electronic case file (ECF) has been the topic of the last several columns. It is essential to create an ECF because it is the backbone of the virtual law office and the virtual courthouse. Remember if technology does not pass the test of doing a better job, more efficiently and for less money, then it should not be considered or used. The elements of the ECF are:
Creating a foundation for change.
2. Understanding the workflow of a judge and a lawyer.
3. Defining the elements.
4. Selecting the technology.
The concept of the virtual law office arises out of the inefficiencies of the paper courthouse world. In the November issue of Government Technology, Alison Sonntag puts it this way:
“Will the courts be pulled kicking and screaming into the Information Age? Can an institution responsible for sentencing millions of trees to death willingly wean itself from paper? Pressure to do something is mounting. From storage needs to courthouse traffic, concerns are forcing the courts to re-examine the way they work.”
Yes the inundation of the paper in the dispute resolution business creates an operational nightmare that interferes with the core mission of the courts to resolve disputes. Yet the virtual law office/court house is more than just organizing the paper into electronic format. It is creating an environment where lawyers and Judges have access to information and work product while at the same time preserve and enhance collaboration and camaraderie elements of the workplace.
In defining the elements of the virtual law office/courthouse, it is essential to understand the purpose and mission of the law office and courthouse. Last month, we examined workflow in an effort to discover HOW the business of the lawyer and the Judge is conducted. Now we need to focus on WHAT lawyers and Judges need to achieve their core mission.
A Judge’s core mission is to decide disputes. A lawyer’s core mission is to persuade and advocate a successful resolution of the dispute on behalf of a client. A Judge is focusing on decision-making while a lawyer is focusing on persuasion and advocacy. Obviously, lawyers participate in many other activities. However, we will focus here on those activities relating to dispute resolution.
In order to accomplish the core mission of a Judge, the Judge needs: (i) the law; (ii) the facts; and (iii) the case file.
The law consists of statutory law, case law, jury instructions, secondary authorities such as treatises, law reviews and the Judge’s own personal work product. The facts consist of the testimony of the witnesses (real time, audio, video), the physical evidence and documentary exhibits. The case file consists of the pleadings filed in the court’s case jacket.
In order to accomplish the core mission of a lawyer, the lawyer needs: (ii) the facts; (ii) the law; (iii) the discovery; and (iv) the court case jacket.
The facts consists of client statements, witness statements, expert reports, documentary evidence and photographic evidence. The law consists of statutory law, case law, jury instructions, secondary authorities such as treatises, law reviews and the lawyer’s own work product. The discovery consists of witness depositions, interrogatories, requests for admission of facts. The court case file consists of all pleadings filed in the court case jacket.
The key is to allow the lawyer and Judge to access this information in a consistent graphical user interface (GUI) where there is an easy-to-use point and click access to the components necessary to complete the mission. It is critical that the lawyer and the Judge be provided a work space which minimizes key strokes because many are not proficient typists. As much of the process also needs to be automated. For instance, if the lawyer or Judge is dealing with a personal injury case, then the law is automatically focused on personal injury jury instructions and personal injury-related work product.
by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – January 1999