A modest proposal–buy appellate judges Ipads and stop requiring printed materials on appeal

One of the unanticipated joys of writing this blog has been reading correspondence from readers.  Recently, I received a note from a paralegal working for a Federal Public Defender.

The paralegal suggested the following:

I’m currently a paralegal who is spending some time at a Federal Public Defender office before heading to law school.  . . . 

My current job often involves assisting with appellate submissions. We produce truly massive packets of materials (usually in capital cases), and we print numerous copies of these materials.

At times colleagues have joked that we could buy everyone involved in the process (Judges, clerks, attorneys, heck probably even paralegals) an iPad, load up all the documents and come out ahead financially. Once everyone had an iPad we would really start saving money. At least to me the experience of reading PDFs on an iPad is superior to that of paper. For example, people with difficulty reading small text can zoom in. It’s even possible to place text notes into the documents.

At this time of fiscal crisis in the federal courts, it seems like a massive waste of money and resources to continue submitting appellate materials in the current manner. The courts have adopted electronic filing. Why not divert some printing funds to work iPads?

I was wondering if you’ve heard any rumblings about such an arrangement or if you find this to be a viable change? You seem to be a progressive member of the bench, if not in legal interpretation, at least in openness to technological change.

These types of developments are pretty much inevitable in my opinion—it’s only a matter of time. Why wait when the savings are real and the technology is more than adequate. 

Can’t a perfectly reasonable argument be made that (1) all appellate submissions (record, brief, appendix and motion) should be exclusively digital in nature and (2) appellate judges should stop requiring printed materials of any kind from members of the bar–if they want something printed such as a brief, let them do it themselves. Indeed, many (perhaps most) district judges already read briefs on computer screens, and, when necessary, print the brief (or motion or other part of the record) only as needed.  Sure, that slightly shifts printing and personnel costs from the litigant to the appellate court, but that cost is de minimis.  If printing and personnel costs are truly a problem, increase the filing fee modestly.

Shouldn’t all federal appellate courts, like virtually all their district court counterparts, step fully into the modern age?  So, what do you think?


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