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Should You Go to Trial Paperless? Are You Kidding?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 18, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

At FindLaw, we're consistently bemused by Internet lawyers' fascination with "going paperless". Many of us once believed that all law offices would be completely devoid of any paper, one day. Trees rejoice!

Now another slightly less ridiculous notion has reared its head: going to trial without a single sheet of paper in hand. It sounds wonderful, green and modern. But would we do it? Heck, no.

Let's All Take a Deep Breath Already

Because technology has infiltrated so many aspects of our lives, it's very easy to get seduced by the notion that every single facet of existence will be improved through its expanded use. In high school, we had a class on "futurism." Today, there are even professional futurists. These people have the enviable profession of making predictions about where humanity will ultimately go. Those predictions generally lean toward the positive. It seems that the paperless-trial movement has become a thing.

But we are now all quickly becoming aware of the dangers of adopting a technology too widely, too fast. Just take a look at your cell phone. Your phone is an amalgamation of modern technology and convenience rolled into a package that weighs barely more than a few ounces. But there's a disconnect (ironically) between the convenience and power it affords you and how vulnerable it makes you -- makes all of us. We're living in a time when hackers can infiltrate your car.

What we're saying is that technology is great. It's even inevitable. But this does not mean we should just throw caution to the wind.

There's a Time and Place For Everything

Now, let's get back to trial. I'll admit, it's a pretty enticing idea to bring a USB key to court in place of boxes and boxes of papers, but maybe you can find a healthy balance.

First, there's a problem of logistics. Although courts are quickly retrofitting themselves with flat-screen televisions, they're still pretty much caught back in 80's. Most courts do not provide wi-fi, and some even experience outages because people are charging their devices in almost any outlet that can be found. If you bring your PC or Mac to court, you'd better be prepared to power yourself. And if you left your AC adapter at home? Tough cookies -- the judge might not grant any continuances.

And, of course, technology fails. Hard drives cook themselves. Connections refuse to connect. Video cards go on strike at the last moment. And although we haven't found any cases of litigators' smut collection being displayed for all to see, we've at least found several cases of college professors suffering that fate. At least use a different computer for work, right?

When All Else Fails -- Have a Backup

When tech fails, there's always paper. Boring but dependable paper.

Josh Camson at Lawyerist has a few laudatory things to say about paper -- specifically trial binders. (Of course, Camson's post is sponsored by Bindertek, the makers of those Cadillac binders to make you look really lawyerly.) Having prepped a few trial binders myself, I can attest that they are pretty neat -- particularly if you have a fondness for clips, tabs, and mechanical doodads.

When your computer refuses to cooperate, hopefully you had the foresight to prepare an organized trial binder. The judge will love it, and opposing counsel will be caught off-guard because he went to court without his binder.

We'll step back a little and say this: computer technology in the courtroom is great. In fact, it can even enhance the experience for the jury and even the judge. That's good. But it would be foolish not to have some contingency in place should your computer decide to go kaput.

So, should you go to trial paperless? Would you drive without fastening your seat belt? Should you walk into an interview with your teeth not brushed? Should you go on a romantic date with your fly-unzipped? Do any of these sound reasonable? No.

FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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