No and Yes: Use the Scanner!
A recent column in the San Jose Mercury News (California) left me shaking my head. According to the column, a lawyer wanted to use a portable scanner in the offices of the Santa Clara County planning department to scan documents for a case, but was told that scanning was not allowed – only photocopying, at 10 cents a page. The reason, supposedly was to "preserve the integrity" of documents that could be lost or damaged if they were scanned.
Records Retention is More Manageable
Such stories should not lead to despair about the law's ability and willingness to use electronic technology. From generating electronic files on personal computers, to scanning of paper files, to storing electronic records in a remote "cloud" location, computers have made the issue of records retention more manageable. The principles of electronic file and record management are the same as those that have governed paper documents. It is just the management process itself that is changed, and almost in every instance it is for the better.
A More Collaborative Environment is Fostered
For proof, consider that the Judicial Council of California gave its 2011 Ralph N. Kleps Award for improved court administration to the Fifth Appellate District of the Court of Appeal for its Electronic Writ Processing Program, which used scanning to reduce paperwork for each case. This program eliminates the piles of paper normally generated by each case; instead, the court's original proceedings, called writs, are processed electronically through the use of – you guessed it – scanning. The Writ Project has created a collaborative environment for justices and staff of the court. Justices can now review online any documents relating to any case, discuss the case with their colleagues online or even cast votes electronically from any location. Attorneys can also view petitions online and send out their research memos electronically.
Speed and Cost of Processing Documents is Improved
Before the Writ Project, court clerks needed to make multiple copies of all petitions. The new process of scanning each petition and creating electronic documents, is 25 percent faster. The project includes all writs, civil and criminal. The Writ Project was designed and developed in-house by the Fifth Appellate District of the Court of Appeal. The development team consisted of the presiding judge, the court administrator, the assistant court administrator, and the court's information technology staff. The cost of the project, including hardware, software, training, and consulting services, came to $39,000; funding came entirely from Court of Appeal general funds. This is just one example of the kind of progress that technology is bringing to make the law more efficient and effective for everyone – while preserving "integrity" for all.