Paperless Trials, Legal Collaboration and the Benefits of the Cloud

What do paperless trials and case collaboration have in common? Both are now realities, both can achieve dramatic productivity and cost efficiencies for legal professionals and their clients, and both rely on the ease of use, flexibility and scalability of cloud technology – pre-trial and in the courtroom.

Legal teams are using cloud technology to create new efficiencies and reap benefits — both in the U.S. and abroad — as they perform the substantive and collaborative work of “lawyering” in preparation for negotiations or trial. The work might involve assessing, as a team, the legal and strategic strengths and weaknesses of your client’s standing, or discussing ideas and insights that could form the basis for a skeleton argument. It could entail the analysis and sharing of key evidence as it is produced during the early stages of discovery. It might mean establishing logical threads among a variety of documents and passages and document types, and then drafting and revising annotations and commentary that clarify the importance of those relationships.

When these kinds of collaborative activities migrate to the cloud, multiple efficiencies arise. The outcome is not just about saving time and money; it’s also about improving the quality of attorney work product.

Even when team members are scattered around the office, the country or the globe, every designated user has round-the-clock access to the same tools and materials via a Web-based interface on whatever device they happen to be using. Exchanges of ideas with colleagues no longer rely on email or scheduled online “meetings” or endless rounds of phone tag. All the files and tools you need are right there in the virtual workspace, including the ability to create hyperlinks between passages and files with a single click and send email notifications alerting designated team members to the addition of new annotations or commentary.

Instead of navigating back and forth among an endless lineup of software tools to manage different aspects of case analysis and fact management, users can complete everything from one cloud workspace. Labor-intensive, manual tasks like printing, highlighting and applying “sticky notes” to documents and organizing them in color-coded binders fall by the wayside — all of that can be done much more efficiently electronically. The same goes for attaching marked-up documents to emails (an inherently risky practice from a security perspective), circulating them among team members, waiting for their own markup and responses, and keeping track of all of the changes and commentary. In a cloud-based legal workspace, there is only one version of a document or file, and it’s always accessible in the latest incarnation to every authorized user.

From global workspaces to electronic litigation in the courtroom

What’s the news on the domestic front? Prospects for truly paperless trials are still a ways off for litigants in the U.S. The Supreme Court is only now developing an electronic filing system but will continue to require paper for official filing even after the system is operational. And even though e-filing is gradually taking hold at the state level, its implementation is piecemeal at best, with a variety of approaches and levels of ambition in evidence depending on the jurisdiction.

In other countries, however, the paperless ideal has graduated to actual practice, and in some cases extends beyond court filings to virtually the entire range of trial-based activities. For example, Singapore launched an e-filing pilot way back in 1997, and now has a comprehensive, entirely web-based trial system called E-Litigation, which requires no installation of software on local computers, replaces PDFs with dynamic electronic court forms for many documents, and provides litigators with electronic access to every case document for the entire length of a trial.

In the United Kingdom, a high-profile, high-stakes ($9.7 billion) trial that took place in 2011 — a dispute between two Russian billionaires, Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky — has become famous for its use of cloud-based electronic trial bundle technology to establish a real-time, online workspace for the trial’s five parties and judge. The system dramatically reduced the volume of paper generated by the proceedings and streamlined the mammoth task of managing tens of thousands of documents in multiple languages, including e-discovery documents, expert reports, applications and motions, transcripts, sealed orders and pleadings.

Perhaps the most telling number that emerged from this use of a virtual workspace in the courtroom is the 19,000 live hyperlinks that were created to forge logical connections among witness statements, daily transcripts, exhibits, chronologies, skeleton arguments and the thousands of underlying disclosed documents. This eliminated massive amounts of time and effort attorneys would have spent leafing through binders and papers to establish those same connections.

Why the cloud, specifically?

Cloud infrastructure is designed to handle dramatic changes in computing requirements easily and automatically, without adding to onsite infrastructure. It requires no purchase or installation of software on local machines or devices, minimizing upfront costs and reducing the burden on already-overtaxed IT staff. Scalability is rarely an issue: The influx of a large volume of deposition video files, for example, will not crash the system. And costs generally track closely with the document volumes, so it makes fiscal sense to use even with the smallest cases.

Already a mainstay of IT infrastructure at enterprises in an impressive range of industries across the globe, cloud computing is here to stay. Litigation-specific workspaces in the cloud already exist, and legal professionals are beginning to take note. Check it out! It might transform the way you work.

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