Law Technology News
February 2000
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mis@ No. Carolina Supreme Court

Web Reprographics Save Time and Money

Digital system streamlines court filings for state courts.

By Christie Speir Cameron

BY definition, any court is going to produce more than justice: It's going to produce quite a bit of paper. Our court is no exception.

The North Carolina judicial system includes two appellate courts: the Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court, both based in Raleigh and located across the street from each other.

The Court of Appeals is a 12-judge court that sits in panels of three judges each. It is also the first line of appeals for most cases tried in North Carolina courts. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is the state's "court of last resort," with more petitions, but fewer appeals made to its seven justices.

The workload for these two appellate courts comes from all cases tried in courts throughout North Carolina's 100 counties. About 2 percent of these cases are sent to the Court of Appeals, roughly translating into 5,000 filings each year.

The documentation for these cases ranges from records, which can be several volumes of several hundred pages; to briefs, which are limited to 35 pages with appendices. Supreme Court filings, which number approximately 600 new cases each year, are accompanied by documents that have no page limits. For example, a death case can be recorded in 40 volumes of transcripts, three volumes of records and briefs that are several volumes long.

In order to cope with, and streamline, this paperwork, we recently purchased a Web-based, digital reprographics system. It speeds up the document filing process, reduces printing costs and provides law offices across the entire state with "anytime, anywhere" access to legal information.

Order In The Court

As clerk of court for the Supreme Court, I supervise the printing department, which prints legal documents -- records, briefs and petitions -- for the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. When we receive a document in the printing department, we need to create approximately 20 copies of it, 14 of which are used by the seven justices and their research assistants, and several of which are sent to the attorneys involved in the case.

Our department receives nearly 250,000 original new pages for processing each year, and our annual total copy volume is nearly five million pages. In the past, when cases were appealed to the Supreme Court, we had to find all of the papers that were originally filed in the Court of Appeals and reprint them for the Supreme Court. This was a burdensome process, especially considering that our printing department relied heavily on copiers to reproduce these documents.

Prior Systems

Before the decision to upgrade, the Supreme Court was using Xerox 5100s, which offered neither scanning nor Web submission capabilities.

We were increasingly experiencing copier downtime, and we knew that we had to update or replace our technology. At first we intended to simply replace the copiers. Then we realized the benefits of scanning capabilities and looked at whether we wanted to scan or just copy. Finally, we evaluated what we could do with our Web site and how it would help the entire judicial system to implement a Web-based document submission and printing process.

We spent several months researching the technology industry to find the right provider, and considered Danka and Xerox systems, in addition to IBM. Our research included on-site visits with two of the candidate companies.

Ultimately, we choose a custom system from IBM, that includes an IBM RS/6000 server, two Infoprint 60 duplex printers with finishing features, several IBM PCs and two Xerox scanners.

There were some initial challenges associated with implementing the new system simply because it is so vastly different from what we had been doing. But, everyone was willing to work through the change, and we held regular meetings to discuss the implementation.

The heart of our court's digital system is a Lotus Notes Domino 5.0 document library with Web-enabled clients. This on-line viewing and retrieval capability allows court personnel to publish directly into the library via electronic submission, as well as capture documents scanned from hard copies and submit print requests for documents selected from the library.

Previously, state lawyers had been forced to file appeals in writing and mail them to the Court. Now, they can log on to the Supreme Court Web site, fill out a form, attach their brief and file it electronically. Once the electronic brief is in our system, it's immediately posted on the Web so our justices, attorneys, law schools and the public at large can access them at any time, from any location.

Many justices go home to other parts of the state on the weekends; instead of packing up their car with boxes of briefs and records, they can now view them via the Web -- all they need is a laptop. And, the decrease in turnaround time can be dramatic.

The time from filing an appeal by mail to it being entered by the Court can take nearly a week. With electronic filing, the process essentially occurs in real time. The document is simply reviewed by the clerk's office to make sure it is being appropriately filed. Then it is ready to be queued and printed.

That also represents a huge time savings for our printing department. We no longer have to manually scan or copy old documents prior to printing. Electronic document submission also decreases the number of times that information has to be entered.

Previously, clerks received a hard copy of a brief, then re-entered the information into the court's case management system --causing duplication of effort for us and increasing the likelihood of the wrong data being entered.

Justices and research assistants can also call up portions of old briefs that have been electronically submitted and print only the sections they need -- again, easier and time efficient.

Increasingly, lawyers are relying on electronic and Internet technologies to do their jobs faster, more effectively and more productively. With the new IBM system, we now have the capability to improve our printing operations and fundamentally change accessibility of efficiencies and economies of the Appellate Courts in North Carolina.

Though it's still too early to quantify the exact benefits of the new system, our prediction at the court is a more streamlined judicial process. The entire state Appellate Court system will be fully connected, with easier and faster access to information.

We are also looking into using the new system to handle electronic fund transfers between offices. Our plans call for the continuous enhancement of the solution over time with a goal to create a system which provides the same accessibility to our Court -- no matter where someone is situated within our long and large state.

Christie Speir Cameron is clerk for the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The court's Web site is www.aoc.state.nc.us.

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