Is It Time for Paperless Court Hearings?

Is It Time for Paperless Court Hearings?

Anyone watching the Supreme Court deliberate on the prorogation of Parliament could have mistaken the scene for a 19th courtroom: an army of lawyers and paper everywhere. It is the same scene in civil courts throughout England.

Clients facing huge costs for solicitors’ time, brief fees and refreshers will grimace when they see the bill for copying bundles. We have the means and solutions to go completely paperless, so why are we not already saving the planet in court? Here David Jackson, SVP for Business Development for CaseLines, makes the case for paperless hearings and how digital transformation in the courts can benefit both lawyers and clients.

Three years ago, HMCTS introduced plans to transform the UK’s justice system through paperless working. The digital vision has been delivered across the criminal justice system in what Justice Minister Lucy Fraser recognised as a huge success: “The Digital Case System is a great example of the benefit technology is bringing to our courts and tribunals. Not only has it saved a staggering amount of paper, but it is making a real difference to legal professionals up and down the country every single day.”

Courts and clients have a shared interest in paperless hearings to drive efficiencies and cost savings. Law firms that want to demonstrate innovation and seize competitive advantage should take note!

Until recently lawyers had an excuse. The absence of simple tools for post-collection evidence review and trial presentation, which alongside the prospect that most cases settle before trial, reduced incentives for paperless hearings.

However, the case for digital working is now stronger than ever, benefits include:

  • More efficient case preparation pre-trial, saving up to 80% of paralegal effort
  • Huge savings on paper and printing costs
  • Faster trials (often 10%-25% shorter) frees time for courts and reduces costs of counsel

Case preparation starts after collection of evidence from eDiscovery tools, clients and opponents. New collaborative tools allow lawyers to store evidence digitally, share access between solicitors and counsel, create and share notes within teams, hyperlink to issue maps and case chronologies. The best tools allow documents to be stored once and reused for case conferences, expert witnesses, interlocutories and eventually trial. Embedded redaction tools save time and improve security in complex cases; competition law, public inquiries into child exploitation and many others. Lawyers can cut hundreds of hours from case preparation. Whilst not all will like that, the best will see an opportunity to build client trust and cement relationships.

For bundle production digital tools can save up to 80% of paralegal time. How? By simplifying construction of hearing bundles, automatic hyperlinking documents to the index, saving photocopier time and eliminating the dreaded ‘page turn’. Almost every reader will recall with horror youthful days and nights producing bundles – but those days are now numbered.

Paper hearings require paper. So how much are you charging clients? For a single binder of 200 pages at a CMC clients will pay £200 or more for the printing and up to £400 for the paralegal production time. Increasingly clients are expecting firms to absorb printing costs. What does that mean for you? HMCTS and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can give you an answer. Its Digital Case System has effectively paid for itself by eliminating paper. According to CPS: “Transforming the Crown Court into a digital environment is saving 29 million sheets of paper, reducing stationery costs by an estimated £2.7 million a year...” That works out at 10.4p per page. Few law firms can match CPS’ economies of scale and so for most the cost will be considerably higher.

Finally, we reach the hearing. The case hasn’t settled and in the corridor outside court are leaders, juniors and solicitors costing at a minimum £5,000 per day. HMCTS has costs too – on average around £2,700 per day. Digital case presentation allows cases to progress faster. The main mechanism for time saving is the speed that parties can move from page to page; directing the judge and witness to a new page is almost instantaneous, and with digital everyone will be on the same page. One lawyer recently estimated that in his electronic trial every page change saved an average of 30 seconds, saving 24 minutes from each 4-hour court day. He estimated that for his 56,000 page six week trial the client saved £42,500. Counsel with experience of electronic trials will advise clients they can expect 10-25% savings in time allocation. Courts and clients cannot afford to ignore such huge savings.

The case is clear. Courts and clients both benefit from the adoption of digital case preparation and presentation. The tools now exist for lawyers to make the digital switch just as HMCTS and CPS have ably demonstrated. Time now for innovative litigators to follow that lead.

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