So here is the download on the tech sessions at last month’s conference of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers in Santa Fe.
First, the presenters gave the results of a survey of AAAL members. Appellate practitioners embrace a wide spectrum of expertise on the tech front – some are absolute Luddites, while others are cutting edge. Because I have the best, most tech savvy assistant in the world, I will include her help I tip over to the techie side. (Thanks, Heather.)
The big take away is that ethical rules require you to be up to speed on technology, so you can’t just sit in your office with a quill pen and rely on your assistant. (Only so much reliance on Heather is allowed.)
Most AAAL members are now using two computer monitors [this is very useful] – some are using three. The vast majority use Windows and Word, not Apple (some still use Word Perfect – app lawyers can be a stubborn bunch).
So what do appellate lawyers do that trigger tech issues?
1. The record. The issue is wrangling a large record, and how to take notes on it. There was discussion as to which speech to text program to use (one presenter likes dragondictate, but that costs $$), and getting searchable transcripts from the court reporter.
2. The brief. There was discussion about setting up templates for briefs and tables. One presenter (an ex-judge) advised to pay attention to your tables – judges use them a lot. The presenters advised using styles for formatting early on – they say it helps organize the thought process. The real techies have templates with boilerplate fill-ins for their briefs and key strokes for often used phrases. And remember, for creating documents and managing them, consistent coding is key. Apparently there’s a lot of variety as to whether a court wants an OCR pdf or not, varying from district to district. If you are confused about fonts – serif v. sans serif – one presenter recommended looking at the Seventh Circuit’s explanation (go to its cite and read “Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers”). Times New Roman is bad, hard to read. If you have a page limit, one presenter suggested choosing Garamond to get the most space. Apparently double spacing in Word is actually a little more than true double spacing in 12 pt font, so you can squeeze a little if you need to in order to meet limits. And reading on tablets, the more text you can get on a page, one presenter said, the better. (This is a dichotomy with the general rule that recommends a lot of white space.). Sometimes you have to hunt for a court’s formatting rules – the Sixth Circuit has a briefing checklist buried outside their rules that says use Times New Roman.
3. The cloud etc. One presenter noted ethical rules in storing on the cloud. If you use the Google consumer level (v. business level) and upload, that material is licensed to Google, he said, so you risk confidentiality problems. He said that wasn’t true for dropbox. And don’t forget to pdf all your redlined documents when you sent them outside, in order to scrub metadata.
4. Link rot and bad citing. 50% of the website linked cites by the US Supreme Court are now dead and unretrievable. One presenter also showed how some judges (particularly at the Supreme Court level) cite things that, when you dig backwards to an actual source, are unfounded or created by a self-serving interest group. The lower appellate courts and state courts are less egregious on this independent frolicking through websites and carefree treatment of fact and authority, perhaps because at the Supreme Court, they are more policy oriented, and inclined to cite whatever “fact” matter wherever they find it, including the umpty ump numbers amicus briefs, to support the policy they like.
In addition to tech talk, the conference included a presentation on the history of New Mexico courts by New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Daniels. Let’s just say they call it the wild west for a reason. One interesting point he made was at one point when that Court was getting inundated with work and there was talk of increasing the number of Justices from 5 to 7, they instead created an intermediate appellate court and made appeals to the Supreme Court discretionary. He said that this was very astute.
Next: we will wrap up our discussion of the conference with some tips and observations from a panel of appellate judges.