By: David Kervin Jr.
While lawyers have a variety of practice management tools to assist them at work, the administration of justice at the state court level is often lacking in uniformity and technological innovation. Technological innovation in filing and docket management, and the use of AI and machine learning could greatly improve judicial efficiency and lead to better, more just outcomes.
The federal court system was ahead of the technology curve when it implemented PACER way back in 1988. PACER (“Public Access to Court Electronic Records”) went online in 2001 and allows users to access and file federal pleadings from their own computer. PACER makes filing and being served more efficient because everything is done online – no paper or postage needed – and all parties receive notice through their email. This eliminates the need for the lawyer to mail paper copies of the pleadings to opposing counsel and eliminates the need to race to the courthouse to file a last minute pleading before the courthouse closes.
But state courts are not part of PACER, and many states generally have a hodgepodge of paper filing and online filing systems. We do not know why PACER was not scaled out to incorporate state court systems, and perhaps we should ask that question. In Louisiana, for example, you can file paper pleadings (which require lots of court staff to sort, copy and file) or you can file online – at least in some of the courts. And even then, neighboring parishes may have different filing systems that require different logins, use different software, are not always compatible with Macs, and require separate subscription fees.
For example, St. Tammany Parish uses a different e-filing system than Orleans Parish, even though they are neighboring parishes. Both courts accept and process paper filing but St. Tammany’s online subscription fee is $20 per day or $480 per year, while Orleans is $25 per day or $700 per year. Keep in mind these fees are just for online docket access, and do not include the filing fees required to actually file the document. Using different online filing systems for neighboring parishes is just one example of judicial inefficiency at the state level.
Automakers do not use different size lug nuts for each wheel on the same car because that would be inefficient and counter-productive. Anything that can be standardized and made uniform, in manufacturing at least, generally is. Perhaps the same mindset should be applied to the administration of our courts as well.
If we are to reduce the costs of legal services, we must look at making the state court systems more efficient and uniform wherever they can be. And that includes applying uniformity, standardization and the best technology to our state courts. Imagine if Google made the software for our courts. We would have a wealth of case data available to the parties, judges and policy makers. This data would assist all interested parties in risk management and decision making. Private corporations already build and run the software that is used by the state courts that have adopted it. But this software is nowhere near as useful as it could be.
Our legal system needs the same types of innovation we see in entertainment and social media. It is hard to argue that improving our nation’s legal system is less important than increasing the likes on our social media posts.