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February 6, 2009

Court Case Management: Beyond the wasted paper

The venue was larger than I had imagined or expected. The three speakers from the previous session had just finished and were exiting the stage. I clipped on my microphone which would project my voice to the far corners of the room and faced an audience of judges, lawyers and court managers.

I had spent the last couple of days reviewing my presentation, figuring out the best way to make the point that courtroom paper was not just an environmental issue, but it also impacts data accuracy and analysis, staff productivity, and time-to-decision.

I flashed up a slide.

Arkansas Appellate Judge Wendell Griffin (Louanne Parker v. John Matthew Parker)

  • Appellant’s brief consists of 4 volumes, including a 277-page abstract and a 684-page addendum
  • The appellate record in this case was 10 volumes, totaling 1959 pages. Appellant submitted a 980-page brief. Appellee’s brief, which included an unnecessary supplemental addendum, numbered 174 pages. Appellant filed an 18 -page reply brief.
  • 20 copies of the briefs required (17 for filing with the clerk, 1 for opposing counsel, 1 for the circuit court, and 1 for that party)
  • Then the briefs and record on appeal consisted of 25,399 pieces of paper.
  • According to an environmental company based in San Francisco, California, one tree makes 16.67 reams (one ream = 500 sheets) of paper. Conservatree, How much paper can be made from a tree? (last assessed Jan. 18, 2007). Based on these calculations, the paper filed by the parties on this appeal alone has consumed almost 3 trees.


The sacrifice of three trees is tragic and maybe even shocking. However, for today’s presentation, the point to be made extends beyond the wasted paper.

Alas, the sacrifice of trees is in vain. Automated processes, electronic disclosures and digital court documents are a far superior way to move information through a court process than manual paper-based processes.

Firstly, let’s examine staff productivity which is a key concern as court caseloads have been trending upwards and budgets have been flat if not decreasing. How much staff time is spent standing in front of a photocopier making 20 copies of the required briefs and preparing them for distribution? Furthermore, I have yet to meet someone who enjoys pushing paper.

Secondly, how much of the time from petition to court decision is spent waiting for paper files to travel from one destination to the next? Surely, justice can be reached faster when documents can travel at the speed of bytes.

Finally, automated workflows allow for a richer set of information to be collected and analyzed across cases. Some of the data, seen today as irrelevant to finding ways to reduce recidivism, may in the future be found to be critical as a new pattern is discovered.

With this end in mind, “Where to begin?’ I asked all the members of the audience who had no paper forms in their court systems to step out of the room. No one left.

What would your processes look like with paper out of the equation. Would processes be more transparent, your staff more productive and your time to decision faster?

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