The Digital Divide and Courtroom Technology: Can David Keep Up with Goliath?
Heintz, Michael E., Federal Communications Law Journal
The federal judiciary recently embraced the technological revolution. Select courts are now equipped with state-of-the-art technology to aid in trial presentations. Before the judiciary made the improvements, litigants had to keep pace with the technological advancements themselves, and often at a great cost. One might think that the recent technological improvements made to federal courtrooms would have widened the gap between large and small firms where the available resources are vastly different, but that is not the case. In fact, the installation of new technology into courtrooms serves to equalize what would otherwise be a "digital divide" if the parties provided their own systems.
Although large firms have greater resources than their smaller colleagues, those resources do not create an unfair advantage inside "Electronic Courtrooms" as some feared. In those courts that offer the new systems equally to both sides, it is up to each attorney to create an advantage by effectively using the available resources. As a result, Electronic Courtrooms should become the standard in federal district courts.
In addition to their usual courtroom presentations, lawyers now have a growing number of technological choices in forming their arguments. They can present cases using computer-generated PowerPoint[R] presentations and witness videoconferencing. Light pens can annotate pictures projected digitally onto flat video screens in the jury box. Additionally, filing and serving all court documents can now take place electronically. In essence, a lawyer can dispose of a case, from complaint to judgment, without printing a single piece of paper.
The implementation of this new technology makes case management easier and more efficient. Some believe that the influx of technology may give an unfair advantage to "deep-pocket" litigants. The trend toward using additional and expensive equipment in trying cases raises the question whether small firms and solo practitioners can compete with larger firms inside these new Electronic Courtrooms.
Seventy-nine federal district courtrooms and five federal bankruptcy courtrooms are now using some form of new technology, whether electronic filing or new devices in the courtroom itself. (1) Although both federal and state courts are each installing new systems, this Note will focus primarily on the federal model and the advances made there.
Part II of this Note introduces the technologies available to lawyers when trying cases in the Electronic Courtrooms. This includes the equipment physically used in the courtroom and hardware used outside the courtroom. This Note also provides a brief overview of the types of technologies available in a judge's chambers to facilitate caseload management. The technologies introduced are available to anyone who conducts a case in an Electronic Courtroom. Parties need not move special equipment into a courtroom to the potential detriment of the opposing party.
Part III of this Note analyzes whether large firms have any advantage over small firms or solo practitioners in effectively using the new, increasingly available technology. This portion of the Note compares the actual use of technology by large and small firms, examines reactions from practitioners who used the new systems, and analyzes why small firms and solo practitioners are not disadvantaged when litigating in an Electronic Courtroom.
II. BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON COURTROOM TECHNOLOGY
Several federal district courtrooms recently invested in new equipment to become cutting-edge "Electronic Courtrooms." Three of these courtrooms reside in the Northern District of Ohio and are assigned to District Court Judges James S. Gwin of Akron, Kathleen O'Malley of Cleveland, and David Katz of Toledo. (2) Further, Judge Peter Economus's court will come online in Youngstown, Ohio in the near future. …