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Thursday, May 30th, 2013 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice

Today’s practice tip is get ready for change, because sometime soon, eCourts may be arriving in Canada.

It may seem like equal parts pipe dream and unscheduled inevitability, but in the context of an acknowledged access to justice crisis in Canada, the call for technological modernization of our nation`s courts seems to be approaching critical mass.

What will this brave new future look like? How can we ready our practices?

The recent Report of the Court Processes Simplification Working Group, delivered by the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, articulates a clear vision on the features and functions of the e-friendly Canadian courts of the not-too distant future:

E-court initiatives can include basic infrastructure initiatives such as court room screens and microphones, document management systems (for discovery, disclosure documents, court forms, etc.), on-line filing and scheduling tools, the capacity to conduct hearings by remote access, and – ultimately – full dispute resolution tools. E-filings and ultimately ecourts can enhance access to justice for individuals (particularly self-represented litigants) in remote areas or for whom attendance is difficult due to work and/or family commitments. Moreover, e-filings may decrease delays and increase efficiencies within the court system, allowing court staff to focus on triage and referral work rather than clerical work. Ultimately, this use of technology could include e-filings, e-searches, e-docket and scheduling requests (see e.g. Québec), as well as the capacity to conduct motions and entire proceedings online.

Imagine judicial reform that in one fell swoop would:

  • permit (or require) e-filing of court documents and eliminate the cost and inefficiencies inherent in the current system of in-person court filings, waiting lines and occasionally finicky court personnel
  • eliminate the need for photocopying and compiling massive reams of paper in multiple copies of records, briefs and documentary productions
  • on routine motions and appearances, eliminate hours of wasted wait-time in crowded, overbooked courtrooms in favour of scheduled, time-slotted hearings by video conference, conducted from the comfort of your own office.  Imagine the possibilities – appearing in two different courts in two different cities on the same morning (with virtually no carbon footprint left behind…)
  • Allow access by authorized persons to secure online portals containing court filings, schedule information and file-status information, all updated in real time.

What implications do these proposed initiatives have for our firms? For our staff requirements?  Our document management systems? Our time management? Will paperlessness ultimately be mandated by policy?

Nobody knows when these changes will ultimately arrive.  We just strongly suspect that they will.  One day.  Possibly sooner than we think.   And if we are able suspend all disbelief, at least for the moment, I`d suggest it’s not too early to begin the process of readying ourselves and our practices for the changes ahead.

Here are a few thoughts, then, on things we can do to prepare in anticipation of this new world that could soon be thrust upon us:

  • If you’re not a natural when it comes to computer skills and literacy, there is no time like the present to learn.  Playing catch-up in the future may not be a happy experience – your clients could be left behind, along with you, if you aren’t ready technically for what lies ahead.
  • Get used to videoconferencing. Get a webcam. Practice your on-camera skills. Offer tech-friendly clients and counsel the opportunity to conduct routine meetings with you by Skype or FaceTime.  Give some thought to appropriate, discrete backdrops that contribute to a professional and polished appearance.  Experiment with lighting.  Seek and accept feedback.
  • Develop protocols to scan and electronically store all documentation in your clients`files.  Get used to accessing your files remotely via LogMein, GoToMyPc, DropBox or Google Drive.  Give real thought to optimizing your client folder and subfolder organization to facilitate predictable, easy and intuitive access to the documents you need.  Keep rethinking and updating your file organization system as you learn what works best from your own experience.
  • Explore currently available online dispute resolution services like the National Arbitration Forum in Minnesota and shortly, British Columbia’s pending Civil Resolution Tribunal.  They may be the precursors of the models our courts ultimately adopt.

If you are anxious to see these changes arrive, do something about it. Advocate. Let your legislators, regulators and court officials know you believe these changes are overdue and necessary to the functioning of our courts and the administration of justice.

Study the studies.  Attend conferences.  Participate in think-tanks and committees. As noted by Rule 4.06(1) of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers are to encourage public respect for and try to improve the administration of justice.

In short, prepare for the changes ahead by influencing the direction those changes will take.  It may well be our duty to do so.

– Garry J. Wise

One comment on eCourts: Prepare for Change

  1. Cooper Lord says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment in this post. I’m currently practicing as a prosecutor in a rural county in Florida, but the technology usage here far exceeds what I’ve observed in Ontario. All of the reports in our cases are scanned and accessible digitally. There is an online portal where court documents and scheduling is available to authorized personnel. Disclosure is completed through e-mail. Ours is a “paperless” office; we don’t have hard files filled with documents anymore. This is the direction that the courts in Ontario need to take.

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