Survey questions from a group looking past the next few years, beyond when Paper On Demand becomes ubiquitous in courts and the justice community have prompted me to embark on a fearless foray into mid-term prognostication (twelve years out, to 2025). Here are a few of the survey questions, along with my answers:
Question: In what ways can you see courts managing information in 2025 that even the most advanced courts don’t do now?
- Courts will handle only a small fraction of the number of documents they do today. For example, why have a document for a Motion to Continue? Or an Order to Continue? People obligate themselves for great amounts of money; undertake extremely serious commitments, make the most solemn pledges, all without creating documents. The lack of a document does not make a commitment (traditionally thought of as “signing”) less enforceable. In the rare instances when something akin to today’s document (however rendered – electronically, physically, or whatever) is required, it will be handled as an exception.
True, certain processes may always produce documents; but those will be exceptional processes. Generally, information (primary and metadata) will be handled in ways that maximize their integrity, security, and usability. Always remember: ECM stands for Electronic Content Management. A document is just one type of container or vehicle for content – one which I predict will decline in importance and use as electronic information management becomes more seamless.
- Virtually all performance and memorialization of binding acts (today known as “signature”) will involve a hard biometric connection. Many technologies are coming on line to make this capability seamless; it remains to be seen which ones will become standard.
- A consequence of ubiquitous adoption of the technology will be standardization, which, together with “shrinking world” pressures, will be enormously accelerate trans-jurisdictional intercourse. These trends will result in a level of trans-jurisdictional business standards (court rules and procedural law) approaching if not exceeding that of the federal courts.
Question: Can you see any societal implications of courts using “paperless” technology as much as we think they will in 2025?
- Courts will no longer be able to remain as remote as they have historically been, because they will be connected to the rest of government and society at a much deeper and broader level. This fact will create a major identity crisis for the judicial branch.
- Many court actions will approach “real time” effectiveness, with both positive and negative consequences. An obvious example is an arrest warrant for failure to appear being executed on a defendant who is passing through court security on his way to his hearing, but who is held up because of the long line at the door.
Question: Can you see necessary changes to the court’s physical plant to accommodate “paperless courts”?
- The obvious include less storage and elimination of need to take physical document transport into account in facility design and placement.
- Coupled with and partially enabled by the migration to Paper On Demand, revolutionization of jurisdictional and functional boundaries, vast preference for virtual/remote communications resulting in need for far fewer physical courts, even greater reduction in physical trips to courts, and outsourcing and/or centralization of a very large portion of court work (because electronic documents need not be processed locally), will result in greatly reduced need for physical courts in many locations and reduced size and radically different configuration for the rest.
- Alternative input mechanisms such as voice, motion, and – most dramatically in 12 years – brain/machine interface (BMI), together with wearable (Google Glass and much more effective successors) or direct retinal receptors will greatly alter the need for and configuration of desktop workstations. Few people will still be working with either keyboards or monitors.
I included only a couple of examples for each question; but that hopefully will be enough to provoke some reactions. Others will have their own answers; some, no doubt, exactly opposite my own. That’s one of the things that makes this type of exercise fun. The other thing, of course, is that no one can prove that you’re wrong (at least, not yet).