The impact of technology on legal practice isn’t just felt in eDiscovery, incriminating selfies, or AI junior associates — it’s also playing out in courtrooms. Tech’s impact in the courtroom ranges from cutting edge, still hypothetical applications like virtual reality crime scenes, to everyday uses like electronic filing and electronically displayed evidence.
But how are judges, often considered tech-averse, responding to these changes? They love them, according to a recent survey by the New York City Bar Association, but they also don’t always use tech to its fullest potential.
No More Luddite Judges
To see how judges were feeling about tech’s role in the courtroom, the New York City Bar Association polled all 193 judges working in NYC’s Supreme and Criminal courts, receiving 74 responses, or just under 40 percent. The survey focused on five categories of technology:
1. Email, with a particular focus on its role in communication over administrative issues, substantive matters, and calendaring;
2. Electronically displayed evidence and jury charges, such as the use of overhead screens or computer monitors;
3. Electronic submissions, decisions, and transcripts, including electronic courtesy copies of written submissions;
4. Video conferencing, particularly in criminal litigation;
5. Electronic filing.
The results? Participants were largely already using tech in their courtrooms and many were willing to increase its role. When it came to email, two thirds of respondents were using email to communicate with parties and approximately the same amount were somewhat or strongly in favor of doing so. (Our condolences to those poor lawyers who end up before a judge in the bottom third here.)
But despite the enthusiasm, email use was lagging in some areas. Only 20 percent used it to manage their calendar, and only a third thought email should be used to address legal matters.
The results were similar throughout most categories, showing enthusiasm but some gaps in implementation. Three quarters of respondents used electronic presentations of evidence, and a whopping 66 percent strongly favored it. But only 4.3 percent of respondents electronically displayed jury charges, despite over 30 percent being somewhat or strongly in favor.
About half of the respondents used video conferencing to allow parties to appear remotely, most commonly (68.8 percent) for defendants detained by another jurisdiction. Almost 75 percent of respondents were in favor of such a practice, however.
An Expanded Role for Tech in the Courtroom?
Courts were generally enthusiastic about the prospect of greater technology in the courtroom. When it came to adopting an electronic case filing and management system, which New York apparently does not have, just over 59 percent thought such a system would have a somewhat or very positive effect. Less than eight percent viewed it negatively.
Electronic copies of written decisions was another place court’s fell behind. Less than 30 percent of respondents provided them, though only slightly more than 16 percent opposed the practice.
All in all, the NYC Bar relied upon the results to make eight recommendations “representing ways in which existing technology can be leveraged to improve efficiency in criminal litigation.” These are:
1. Expand the use of email to manage cases;
2. Update courtroom audiovisual equipment;
3. Improve technical support and equipment for video conferencing;
4. Provide case note management and file-sharing software;
5. Standardize court reporter services;
6. Implement an electronic case filing and management system;
7. Encourage electronic submissions and decisions as courtesy copies;
8. Create a forum for peer learning.