Reducing the paper trail at trial

By Anna Fry

The legal industry has come a long way in the shift to a paperless world, with many processes during the litigation lifecycle including the filing of documents, electronic discovery and document review being managed electronically.  In Federal law matters for example, an electronic filing facility called “eLodgment” can be used for the lodgment of applications and supporting documents. In Victoria, the Supreme Court has developed an electronic filing and case management system known as “RedCrest”.

The efficiencies however are not always being realized at the final stage of litigation, where the standard approach to prepare for trial is to prepare multiple copies of the court book in hard copy.  Depending on the size of the matter, this can be an expensive exercise.  Not only does printing cost money, but so does the cost of managing paper during trial and storing it afterwards.

As electronic filing and electronic discovery become the de facto standards, the transition to an electronic trial should become easier.  Electronic trials cost money too, but a well-managed electronic trial is certainly capable of being faster, cheaper, and more efficient.

A recent class action in the Supreme Court of Victoria is an excellent example of the time and cost savings that can be made.  At the conclusion of the 12 month trial, the trial judge commented that even using conservative time estimates, “the trial time required would probably have increased by 25 to 30 per cent using paper”.  Underpinning the time saving was the reduced time to put a document before the Court.  Whilst in a hard copy trial, going to the next document requested by counsel often requires the judge and witness to shuffle through folders, tabs and pages often taking 10-30 seconds or more, the electronic presentation system used delivered the right page in under 2 seconds on average.

Of course, for the efficiency gains of an electronic trial to be realized, all of the parties need to buy into it and to get buy in, the practical advantages over and above saving time, cost and trees, need to be demonstrated.  The ability to access to the court book from any location at any time, with 24/7 support is certainly one advantage, as are efficiencies in general administration tasks.  This includes automatic tracking of documents presented and tendered at trial and bidirectional linking of documents. The latter contributes to the usability of documents in ways a hard copy bundle never could - when reviewing a particular document in the electronic court book, the user can straight away see a link to every other document where it is referred to (witness statements, transcripts, submissions etc.). 

Finally and perhaps most importantly, parties need to be assured that they can still work the way they are used to. This means that processes need to be flexible.  Rigid rules such as requiring parties to provide 24 hours’ notice before documents can be uploaded to the court book will frustrate the parties and become a barrier to adoption at future trials.

At the end of the day any “electronic” process, no matter which stage of the litigation process it occurs, needs to be synonymous with ease of use and efficiency. The courts, the parties and the service providers all need to work collaboratively to achieve this and perhaps then we will see a reduction in the paper trail and a faster resolution of disputes.

Anna Fry is a former litigation lawyer and Director at NuLegal Pty Ltd, a company specialising in forensics, ediscovery and electronic trials.