August 2013 | Young Lawyers Survival Guide (Part II)
Paper or Plastic?
In Philadelphia, you may pass the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, or the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and see someone with luggage suitable for a vacation in Hawaii. No, I take that back, Alaska (you would pack way less for Hawaii). I’m guessing that is the case in most cities with courthouses.
The truth is, as we all know, that person is carrying documents, lots and lots of documents. Pleadings, briefs, legal dictionaries, case law, recent publications, etc.—for years, attorneys have been burdened with carrying loads of paper to court.
When I first started to practice, I was taught that to be prepared for court, depending on the specific appearance, I should have all relevant pleadings, motions, briefs, court rules and case law printed out and organized in binders. Additionally, attorneys should have tons of pens, notepads, highlighters, etc. Expect the unexpected and always be prepared, right?
Since the “green” initiative, things have certainly changed. Arguably, you need little more than a briefcase with documents that must be distributed to others, and either a computer or tablet, depending, of course, on the purpose of your appearance in court. However, some firms and attorneys are not yet on board the green wagon.
The first and obvious advantage of “going green” is the environment. Bar associations throughout the country are encouraging law firms to “go green.” In Philadelphia, the bar association has a Green Ribbon Committee, created with the vision of “minimizing our impact on the environment by taking the bar association and our legal community ‘green.’” Others share similar visions, including, for example, the American Bar Association, the Indianapolis Bar Association and the Tennessee Bar Association.
It’s not just bar associations that are promoting the “green” initiative. Courts, too, have developed a “green” means of filing and communicating with attorneys. Federal courts use the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. Additionally, these days it is not uncommon to receive an e-mail from a judge’s clerk as a means of communication throughout the litigation process. Electronic filing systems are also common in state courts for filing and communication. Federal and state administrative agencies such as the Social Security Administration and Workers’ Compensation Bureaus also have electronic filing systems in place. All of these processes are certainly environmentally advantageous; however, they also are cost-effective and efficient.
How is going green cost-effective?
Well, first of all, I must disclose that I do not do financial analyses for my firm, or any other firm, nor have I ever. But some of this is common sense. How much do you and/or your firm spend on the following services?
At my firm, which is definitely on board with the “green” initiative, we’ve done away with the vendors and have designated positions for “filer/scanner.” Any correspondence that comes in the door is immediately scanned into our database and shredded for recycling. Except, of course, original documents that should and/or are required to be stored. Additionally, we use an internet-based fax system, which eliminates the need for scanning and allows us to quickly add documents to our database. With staff that is savvy in navigating technology, this model has proven to be extremely efficient and certainly cost-effective.
How is being “green” efficient in court?
With access to electronic files, including legal research, the sky is the limit with respect to preparing for court. No really, the “sky.” Over the last few years, I’ve created “cloud” accounts with Google, Microsoft and other providers. Technology is truly amazing. Many of the functions of these providers differ, so, you should learn the ins and outs of several of them first to determine the best programs for your practice needs. Below are two of my favorites:
Google Drive (previously Google Docs): Google Drive is an oldie but goodie. I’ve used it for several years. The best thing about it is the space you are allotted for free—15GB! You can create folders and documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and subsequently export the documents into Microsoft. Pretty cool! Like many of the other “cloud” drives, Google Drive has a sharing feature—for example, you can create a spreadsheet and allow others to view and modify it. While you are in the document, you can also “g-chat” with others in the document. These features allow you to communicate with your paralegal and update documents while in court in real time.
This drive also works well for group projects. The Philadelphia Young Lawyers Division uses this program for events and it has proven to be extremely effective.
In addition to being able to create and export Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, Google Drive allows you to save and access PDFs. Once you’ve accessed a PDF document from Google Drive, you can open it in an Adobe program. For iPads, numerous apps can make working with PDFs very efficient. For example, the PDF Expert app allows you to create hyperlinks to pages in other PDFs. This can be especially useful to place references in an opening statement or oral argument.
Google Drive includes the Google Docs office suite. One of the down sides of Google Docs is the inability to edit uploaded Microsoft Office documents. You can see them; however, unless they are in Google Doc format, you cannot edit them.
I find the best value in Google Drive to be the document storage, accessibility, editing options while in Google Doc format, and the sharing and chatting capabilities.
Microsoft Skydrive: This is another favorite. It shares many of the great features of Google Drive. It offers 7GB of space for free, which is also great.
The major value in this program is its compatibility with Microsoft Office. With this program, you can create an Office document on any device (home computer, work computer or iPad), open it on any computer in Microsoft Office, and it will save to the skydrive without you having to convert or export/import the document. This is an awesome feature and allows you to be extremely efficient wherever you are working.
I have found the above programs, and many more like them, extremely helpful in my practice, especially with respect to court preparation and appearances.
One of the most helpful tools in working remotely, including court appearances is remote desktop. There is nothing like being able to access your work computer from court.
To use the programs above, including remote desktop, I use either my iPhone’s personal hotspot, or an independent mobile hotspot purchased and serviced through my cell phone provider. For me, the mobile hotspot works better as it is 4G LTE, while my iPhone’s personal hotspot is 3G and much slower.
So, what if your law firm is not on board?
My first suggestion is to talk to the higher-ups. We are all so busy. They may not have fully considered the advantages of using laptops and iPads in court and in practice in general. They may also be unaware of all the technology available that will save them money and allow their attorneys and staff members to be more efficient.
Your firm may also be more receptive to change once you show them that you can be as prepared, if not more prepared, using today’s technology versus lugging around bankers’ boxes. Finally, don’t forget to remind them of the most important point– “going green” is not a fad. It is a national movement which is absolutely necessary for environmental protection and sustainability.
Maria E. Harris is an attorney at Martin LLC, focusing on Social Security and long-term disability cases, and is the vice chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Richard W Goldstein, Goldstein Patent Law
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