Appellate Practice: The Next 50 Years

Vol. 53 No. 3

Peter M. Koelling is the director and chief counsel of the ABA Judicial Division. Koelling was a law clerk for the Texas Supreme Court, was in private practice, and has worked in court administration in Texas, Washington, and Colorado. He also holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University.

In many ways, it is easy to predict the future of appellate practice. Because the courts tend to lag about 20 years behind the adoption of technology, looking forward 20 to 25 years should be simple. Looking beyond 2040 may be more difficult as variations in what may happen become wider and wider.

Information and communication technologies have had and will continue to have the biggest impact on appellant practice. In the past three decades, the technology for information management has been developing and expanding rapidly. Courts primarily manage and handle information in many forms, including pleadings, documents, testimony, motions, and briefs. Yet the courts have been one of the slowest institutions to fully adopt and fully integrate the widening capabilities of information management technology. Electronic filing, sophisticated docket management software, videoconferencing, and other technologies are often adopted by the private sector first, then the courts are dragged along and pushed to embrace the new technology.

To be fair, such adoption costs money and the courts are dependent upon the legislature or other entities to provide funding. Over the past decade, court budgets have been so tight it is unrealistic to expect a court to ask for an investment in infrastructure when it is struggling to get sufficient funds merely to operate.1 However, even the funders may eventually understand that these new technologies can make the courts more efficient and will provide the necessary investment.

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