Next to readability, manipulation of documents is probably one of the biggest issues for judges considering a move to a paper-on-demand court. Indeed, paper-on- demand, by definition, leaves open the alternative of printing out documents and files for judges who want the physical paper. In the past, some judges have done exactly that. Much of the reason dates back to the “bleeding edge” days in the late 90s and early 2000s, when the available technology simply could not provide the type of interface that could compete in terms of speed and usability with paper.
Some of the modern capabilities that enhance judicial document handling include:
• Multi-Touch Display – The ability to bring up and move documents around on the screen using mouse, stylus or one or more fingers, depending on preference.
• Dynamic Tabbing/Place-holders – Essentially “virtual fingers”. When looking through a physical case file and flipping back and forth between two or more documents or different pages within the same document, people tend to hold each place with a finger. With paper-on-demand the judge can either have each page on the screen (without having to disassemble the file) or place electronic “sticky tabs” to quickly return to them. (Note: Electronic “sticky tabs” do not fall off!)
• Marginal Notes – Either “Public” or “Private” – The ability to affix marginal notes is generally a core requirement for judges. Not only must judges be able to annotate documents, they have to be able to keep some of their notes to themselves or limit access to just other judges. For that reason, they may want their own marked-up copy of a document. Electronic Content Management (ECM) provides this capability in a highly secure fashion. Again, the notes do not fall off; and they have less risk of being seen by unauthorized eyes.
• Edit/Save/Distribute – One of the challenges of early document imaging was that it was difficult, if not impossible, to allow judges to quickly and easily edit documents, particularly documents they then needed to sign. Current ECM systems provide simple, easy and secure editing capability for judges.
Today there are fewer reasons to choose paper over electronic documents. Judges can now manipulate electronic documents faster, easier, and more effectively than they can paper. Already, many judges in courts that have implemented systems with these judicial requirements in mind are finding that paper documents simply cannot provide them with the level of ease and control of document manipulation that can be provided by a well-designed ECM system. Indeed, just as courts previously developed (often with great specificity) rules to control the size, shape and paper weight of court documents in order to maximize their “ergonomic” (ease of handling) characteristics, today courts are widely implementing court rules to require and control the characteristics of electronic documents. It makes sense for judges to insist that those characteristics be stated up front as requirements when designing the system, in order to assure them the usability they need.
The final installment of this series will consider how and why Electronic Signature capability is a key requirement in providing a judicial interface to electronic documents that is “Better Than Paper”.