The Law Lags Behind Tech, but Justice and Nature Demand Otherwise

The practice of law like any industry has always relied on forests of paper, oil-based transportation methods, and environmentally unsustainable buildings. Here’s the science:

  1. Deforestation is a worsening problem that seriously damages our health and well-being. Have a look at some of the facts here on LiveScience.com.
  2. Car, train, and airplane exhaust is destroying the air we breathe and the water we drink. Here‘s an overview of the relevant statistics from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
  3. The construction and maintenance of buildings is toxifying our home and business environments, replacing green-space, causing animal and plant extinctions, and producing megatons of carbon emissions and even worse pollutants in our global atmosphere. Here is some information from the US EPA about that.

We don’t need to keep going like this. Here are three simple examples of how the courts and the practice of law are still shamefully lagging behind currently available technologies that promote justice and environmental responsibility:

  1. While most US federal courts are doing a decent job of permitting or requiring the e-filing of legal documents, almost all state courts are virtually a no-show in this arena. Paperless transactions and litigation are very uncommon in the legal industry. The time, money, and boxes of paper that could be saved if lawyers and courts promoted paperless law practice is extraordinary. It’s not for lack of fantastic and affordable software that this problem persists.
  2. Telephonic appearance is still a rarity in all courts. Instead of appearing personally, parties and their lawyers can appear in court via telephone conference calls in the few courts that permit this practice. With telephonic appearance, the savings in time and money are substantial as are the environmental benefits of avoiding transportation to courtrooms.
  3. Telecommuting and virtual law practice are almost unheard-of in the legal industry. The mythology of face-time in the law office still carries much weight in the business of law, both for clients and lawyers alike who commonly mistake expensive office spaces and firm handshakes for intelligence, ethics, and ability. The dominance of luddites in the law creates nothing but negative results, because less technology results in the waste of all our time, money, and natural resources.

Imagine a future where brick-and-mortar courtrooms no longer exist but rather litigation takes place remotely with parties interfacing via computers from their own homes, filing, sharing, and referring to documents on shared platforms, teleconferencing, and so on. Judges and juries could interact with lawyers and render verdicts through secure ID-verified networks. We have the technology for all of this already, but the problem is that the practice of law is stuck in the 80’s due simply to ignorance.

If the courts and attorneys were to embrace e-filing, telephonic appearances, paperless litigation and transactions, and virtual courtrooms, the advantages would be tremendous for everyone. Taxpayers would pay less for the bloated public court system. Clients would pay less in attorneys fees and costs, thus making lawyers more affordable and increasing the public’s access to representation and maybe even to justice. Lawyers would save overhead expenses. It would be fantastic for the environment as well. Think of all the saved natural resources: forests of paper, truckloads of gasoline, and the acres of urban land that courts and law offices take up that could otherwise be turned into public green-spaces.

In my law practice, I have fully embraced environmental sustainability since day one, employing as many of these methods as possible and therefore benefiting my clients and nature. For years, I’ve been wondering why it’s taking the courts and virtually all other attorneys so long to catch up with the ample offerings of simple technologies. But then, we all know the answer to that one.

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