How Paper–On-Demand Provides Judges with Documents That Work “Better Than Paper” (Part Two – Readability)

In our last post we considered two of the key requirements to make a paper-on- demand court workable and usable for judges: Accessibility and Navigability. In this post we turn to Readability.

Readability is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, concerns of judges; and rightfully so. Judges have to read an enormous volume of documents. Years of court rules are built around assuring that documents are readable, from margin and font requirements to specifications as to the grade of paper or whiteness.

Today’s technology can provide displays that are as or more readable than paper. Brightness, color, background, and size are all adjustable for personal needs. And, let’s face it, even with all the rules, how often do judges have to decipher something that is too small to read? You could get a magnifying glass. Or, you could expand the image.

As I pointed out in “Want Judges to Use ECM?”, how a judge needs documents displayed is largely a function of what the judge is doing, and where. In chambers, the judge probably needs a lot of screen space (analogous to being able to have multiple documents open on the desk). Ever been in a motel room with a table the size of a TV tray and tried to work on several files or documents at once? Well, I have; and I don’t recommend it. But that’s what it could be like to try to deal with multiple documents on a single, standard-size computer monitor. So here’s my advice – Don’t Do It.

On the bench judges may still want a readable display with plenty of room; but they ALSO don’t want it to interfere with their interactions with their courtroom – parties, attorneys, jurors, bailiffs, court staff, and so on. A number of styles and types of monitors have been used on the bench. Some have monitors actually built into the judge’s work surface. Where that is either not possible or not desired, tilted “low-profile” screens work well.

And then there is mobile capability, for when the judge is away from chambers and the bench. Documents can be accessed and read from laptops of course; but increasingly, tablets are also an option. Tablets work well for judges for things like reading, simple annotation, quick approval and signing. Of course there are tradeoffs – just like paper. It is hard to lug around a large monitor. Generally, a Windows interface will be necessary for more complex processing. At home, it may be required that judges have the same kind of “real estate” that they need in their chambers if they do significant multi-document work at home.

There is no escaping the fact that the experience of reading documents on an electronic display differs from that of reading paper. For that reason, a fair comparison will require a period of getting used to visual display. However, after a while (usually less than judges expect), usage becomes second nature; and the judge will be unwilling to give up all of the advantages of paper-on-demand that he or she will have come to expect and rely upon.

Current display technology enables display capabilities for electronic documents that, at a minimum, will provide readability at least as good as paper. With some forethought, the technology can (and should be used to) provide a standard of readability that paper documents cannot match.

Requirements closely related to Readability include Manipulability and Signature Capability, which future posts will discuss.

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