Lawyers and judges who despise mounds of paperwork may be seeing the light soon if the legal community follows the first-ever decision allowing legal briefs to be distributed via CD-ROM.
U.S. Circuit Court Judge Randall Rader today became the first judge to accept a brief filed on a CD-ROM, complete with hypertext links.
The links, written in HTML, will allow the judge to jump through the patent case appeal instead of scrolling to find supporting cases or depositions.
"In a few years, we'll all be doing this," said Charles Gholz, an attorney with the intellectual property law firm Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier and Neustadt, which filed the brief for corporate giant 3M. "This is the wave of the future."
An attorney offered to file a brief by CD-ROM in April, but the judge struck it down because the opposing attorney said he did not have the money or technology to do one himself.
Following that case, judges with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, led by Rader, set guidelines for the use of CD-ROMs.
The guidelines require that the attorneys filing inform all parties that they are planning to do so. They also are required to file a paper version. "The concern was that...it was done in fairness," Rader said.
Some are still concerned, however, that CD-ROM briefs will favor wealthier clients. Sutton said putting together a CD-ROM brief was a much more expensive and technical venture than using a traditional brief--a perk that his previous clients could not afford. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is defending the 3M patent case, opposed the CD-ROM brief because it wasn't willing to pay for the technology.
Others also are concerned that the CD-ROM briefs will not be accepted by judges because they won't necessarily know how to use them. Gholz admits he was lucky to get Rader, an advocate of the technology and one of the younger U.S. Circuit Court judges.
"Not everybody is comfortable with computer technology," Gholz said. "Some judges like the smell of paper--old, molding paper. So not all the judges are going to say, 'It's neat, let's play with it.'"
"These things tend to move a step at a time," Rader added. "As judges become accustomed to using the tool, they'll find its ease and convenience an asset for their own preparations."
Although some are skeptical that judges will even consider popping a disc into their CD-ROM drives, Gholz is not giving up on presenting it as an option in future cases. Instead of just offering hypertext links to supporting cases or depositions in his next case, portions of the record will be highlighted or text will be enlarged, eliminating the need for wading through documents.
"The first one I've filed is plain vanilla," Gholz said. "I've got all sort of ideas of how to make it more whiz-banged in the future."