Now that The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL) has been going strong for more than 5 months, it’s not uncommon to see our inbox filled with e-mails letting us know about the green initiatives that firms have taken on, public service opportunities available in the environmental field, and tips to live a more sustainable life. So when BBA President Lisa Goodheart e-mailed TSL and asked us to investigate the Massachusetts Appeals Court E-Filing program, it was a no brainer. TSL got in touch with Joseph Stanton, Clerk at the Appeals Court, to find out more.
Almost one year ago, the Appeals Court adopted two standing orders to save valuable time and money as well as help protect the environment. The first order is as simple as can be. It allowed all counsel and self-represented litigants to register with the Appeals Court to receive only electronic notifications in the appeals in which they are participating. When one signs up to receive electronic notice of actions, judgments, orders, and everything in between, they will no longer receive any paper mail. Thinking that some attorneys were worried that they might miss an important notice in their inbox, the Appeals Court also allows for a second person (who works in the same law firm or office) to receive a copy of all notifications sent to the attorney. Don’t worry about not getting your information on time, either. The Court sends out notifications four times daily (at 10:00 a.m., 1:00, 4:00, and 6:00 p.m.), meaning attorneys receive nearly immediate notification of actions on cases.
When making the decision to forgo snail mail for e-mail, the Appeals Court saved money on enveloped paper and postage. Curious how much? In March 2012 alone, the Appeals Court issued more than 3,200 e-notices, all of which would have required paper to print on, an envelope to stuff in, and postage to stick on — not to mention the countless hours of staff time saved by no longer having to stuff envelopes. The Clerk’s Office, dealing with budget cuts and understaffing, can now spend valuable time on substantive case actions rather than stuffing thousands of envelopes a month.
The second order is a bit more complicated for our non-lawyer readers. The order requires attorneys and litigants to e-mail all filings after the court issues notice that the case has been assigned to a panel of judges. Essentially, after the appeal is assigned to a panel of judges to render a decision on the merits of the appeal, all future documents must be sent to the Clerk’s Office in electronic form, which the office will then distribute to the judges via e-mail. The Appeals Court hasn’t stopped there. This winter they developed an e-notice of any cancellation or postponement of argument (thanks to the mild winter, they didn’t have to use this one very often) and they are working with the SJC and Trial Courts to adopt an e-filing platform to save counsel and litigants from reproducing and reprinting multiple copies of documents.
Too often we hear about the challenges of implementing sustainable practices. It’s nice to see that for the MA Appeals Court, sustainability and sensibility go hand in hand.