From the Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 2005
Pamela Manson , The Salt Lake Tribune
Good news for trees: Data will be scanned, then stored and accessed in computers; Paper phasing out in the courts
One lawyer produces up to a ton of paperwork a year, according to legal urban legend. But attorneys who work in Utah's federal court are about to change the story.
Last Monday the court started the first phase of its switch to electronic filing, with clerks scanning new lawsuits and indictments into computers to create an electronic file. The original papers will be recycled after 30 days.
In about a month, after any bugs are worked out, attorneys will file all new cases and subsequent documents directly by e-mail.
Winton Woods, a University of Arizona law professor and creator of the Courtroom of the Future, a project that promotes the use of technology in the justice system, said paperless law offices and courtrooms long have been his No. 1 priority.
"Paper is just choking the clerk's office," said Woods, sharing the "one lawyer equals one ton of paper" chestnut. "The law business really consumes a lot of trees."
But the paperless idea went nowhere for years, due to the difficulty of converting paper documents into electronic ones, he said. Adobe's creation of conversion software, plus the advent of high-speed Internet that can quickly send files of three or four megabytes, has greased the skids.
"It allows people to start to move toward the paperless future that has been so elusive for so long," Woods said. Bankruptcy courts throughout the nation, including in Utah, went online a few years ago. District courts, which handle civil lawsuits and criminal cases, have gone electronic in about half of the states.
The labor-intensive, time-consuming process of filing a suit -- printing it out, signing it, having a messenger deliver it to court and return with a stamped copy, mailing copies to the other attorneys and waiting a few days to receive a reply -- is becoming a thing of the past.