Despite the advent of Smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, etc.) and the many ways they facilitate our lives (i.e. we can now start a car, open a bank account, receive and send e-mails, read the news, etc.), the legal profession still seems to be behind on technology. Although the technology is clearly available, we unfortunately fail to take advantage of its full potential. We have all the tools and gadgets necessary to practice the law from our own homes, without ever even having to physically meet a client or go to court. In fact, the virtual world is less costly, greener, faster and more effective.
There are currently no boundaries for business transactions; everyone is doing business everywhere. Gone are the days where we had to physically travel to China in order to do business. With that in mind, Ebay and other online auction sites have successfully implanted virtual dispute resolution. In cases of dispute arising from a failed transaction that took place in one of these virtual markets, parties don’t have to meet to be able to resolve their dispute. With SquareTrade, a third party dispute resolution provider for eBay, parties can file a case, negotiate and even receive the assistance of a mediator if necessary. The system is fast and effective for simple actions; small cases involving small amounts of money. The outcome of such cases is usually the return of the good with refund or in some cases the buyer can keep the good for free. Unfortunately, the fact remains that mediation cannot establish legal principle. Litigation is sometimes unavoidable. There will continue to be grey area and parties will continue to fight for the same things. In trickier and more complex cases, where the parties want to resolve a legal issue, a Court is the only entity that has the power to do so. Regardless, as mentioned above, we have all the technology necessary to move towards a complete reform of the judicial system:
- – eFiling Notice: this is an electronic filing method that allows lawyers to file documents electronically with a court or tribunal via a secure Internet-based system. It includes the transmission, service and storage of information in electronic form whether the information is sent and received in a way in which it can automatically populate the court’s data base or whether information is manually entered into the court’s data base.
This electronic legal service has been utilized by the Federal Court since 2008. All proceedings before the Federal Court can be filed electronically with such legal service providers as LexisNexis and NetLegal. It eliminates having to pay fees for every transactional filing, and even having to rush to the Court Registry office before it closes. It can also reduce a law firm’s various administration fees; less paperwork means less ink to buy.
E-filing a document increases our control over it by allowing us access to the document as soon as it is delivered, as well as allowing us to decide who will have access to it, etc. Such a system, that is regrettably equally unknown and barely used, is the Telephonic Courtroom, offered by the Quebec Bar. With the latter initiative, lawyers can even avoid having to go to Court to postpone their cases to a later date. Telephonic Courtroom is unfortunately so underutilized that the Bar is considering abolishing it. If that was to happen, it would be a big step backwards for the advancement of technology in the profession.
- Cloud Computing Storage: cloud storage is an important tool that stocks information. According to the National Institute of Standards and Testing, a branch of the US Department of Commerce,
Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
A third party would stock all the documents, proceedings, affidavits, etc with no risk of affecting the confidentiality and privacy of the information that will be transferred to their hard drives. Microsoft offers such a service with Windows Azure, as does Adobe with LiveCycle. It is important to note however that these clouds are hosted in the USA, where the Patriot Act and privacy regulations fail to meet Canadian standards.
- Video conferencing: This is how the pleading and all the meetings between lawyers and judges take place. There are already different services available that fulfil business’s video conferencing needs. Adobe offers a service called Adobe Connect Now (can accept up to three participants). The Adobe Connect Pro supports up to up to 80,000, persistent content, meeting recordings, and multiple deployment options. Microsoft offers a very similar service called Microsoft live meeting (a maximum of 5 participants can use a webcam and there can be up to 1250 viewers).
The fact that there can still be viewers, regardless that such programs are web based, is appealing because it follows the principle that court audiences have to be public and that restricted access is the exception. It’s also quite obvious that watching the case itself would be “easier” than the traditional method of having to physically show up!
The Centre de Recherche en Droit Public at the faculty of law of the Université de Montréal has a Cyberjustice Laboratory project. The purpose of this laboratory is to research and develop infrastructure for creating a virtual courtroom and a transportable courtroom that will be used to test software modules for facilitating online dispute resolution, virtualizing court files, managing court dockets in a more effective manner, and helping judges write decisions. This is an innovative system that could integrate all the technology available in the market into a unique friendly and easy to use software for all practitioners.
Training could be given to law students in universities, similar to the workshops they receive for legal database research (LexisNexis, WestLaw, etc.). For practitioners, seeing how there is a mandatory continuing education for lawyers in Quebec, during the first year of the program every lawyer would have the duty to attend a training session similar to those for students.
As announced recently on Slaw, an upcoming event, taking place in Ottawa on September 22nd and 23rd, will outline the ever-growing emergence of technology in the legal field. The inaugural Forum on Court Technology presented by the Canadian Center for Court Technology will be a great opportunity to learn about the use of technology in courts today and to discover trends for the future.