Being Paperless in Court
There are a few scenarios that keep litigators awake at night. One popular nightmare is the last-minute case on point. Another is being caught unprepared to hand over a critical document in court. The latter is especially terrifying to lawyers who are paperless—or looking for reasons not to go paperless.
I recently (okay, last November) tweeted that I prefer to bring an iPad to court instead of a laptop—or a luggage cart full of client files—and Scott Greenfield took issue:
I suggested that Sam might consider bringing actual client files with him to court, just in case a judge asked for a document, or maybe if his adversary raised an argument that he could destroy with a document in his possession, pulled with a flourish from his file and handed up with verve.
99% of the time, this is what the judge would say if I tried to hand over a document during a motion hearing: “Counsel, since you didn’t submit that document with your motion papers, I am not going to consider it now.” The only exception I can think of would be if I had some brand-new controlling authority to bring to the court’s attention. Not likely, but in that case, I would just print it out and bring along paper copies. Being paperless doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to print anything, after all.
In five years of being paperless and litigating civil cases full-time, I never needed to hand anything to the judge except during trial, when I had everything on paper, anyway. If I had needed to do this, I suppose I could have just set my iPad on the overhead projector and emailed a copy to the judge. Or I could have asked the clerk if I could email a copy of the document to print out. Neither would be as simple as handing over a piece of paper, obviously, but I would rather just be prepared in the first place—with paper, if necessary.
During scheduling and settlement conferences, I have occasionally shown documents to the judge on my laptop or iPad, or just emailed copies to the judge to review in chambers. This has worked just fine.
However, I admit that I don’t know a thing about criminal defense or family law or probate or lots of other areas of practice that involve courtrooms and judges. I have been a civil litigator with a very narrow practice. It is quite possible that, in other practice areas, lawyers regularly need to pull documents out of their files and hand them to the judge (or to the clerk or bailiff, who hands them to the judge), and it would be impossible or impractical to use an overhead projector plus email.
If that applies to you, I suggest one of two things: If you know you are going to need to hand a document to a judge during a hearing, bring along paper copies. If you are worried that you may need to hand over a document that you won’t know about in advance, keep paper copies of your file and bring them with you.
If you are paperless, have you ever needed to share documents while in court? How did you do it?