In the previous article, “Beyond e-Discovery: Trial Bundles”, we discussed the use of various technology tools to simplify the preparation of physical trial bundles. This article sets out the vision, and advantages, of a paper-less, or completely eHearing. This will be articulated as the main components of an eHearing – namely, the trial bundle in “e” format, and the tools needed for the conduct of the hearing itself – are described in this article.
The electronic evidence review process was described in the previous article, “Beyond e-Discovery: Trial Bundles”. In that article, the final work product was a physical trial bundle. It is also possible to have the trial bundle in an electronic form. An example of this is Litigation Edge’s eBundle (figure below), where the documents in the eBundle are produced in PDF and delivered in a portable drive. The eBundle contains a hyperlinked index and a full text search, which enables easy retrieval of the bundled documents.
The advantages of having a portable eBundle are:
- Portability of the flash drive enables lawyers to work from anywhere without the need for physical documents.
- The eBundle can be used to facilitate an efficient, low-cost paperless hearing or eHearing:
- Saves on printing costs
- Saves time spent on printing and binding, , punching holes, binding, stapling etc.
- More efficient trial proceedings, as electronic search and retrieval of documents is much faster than physically locating actual documents stored in many a courtroom shelf.
It is possible to have a mix of printed and e-documents in the trial bundle - the core bundle, including the affidavits, are printed (usually not more than 10% of the total documents), while the remaining documents are stored as soft copies.
Typically, it is the plaintiff’s lawyers that prepare the bundles, which are an amalgam of the plaintiff’s and defendant’s documents. It is recommended that this function be outsourced to litigation support providers, who possess specialist automation tools to amalgamate, identify duplicates, re-sequence, categorise, paginate and volumnise the documents, far more efficiently than a law firm. Litigation support providers turnaround hard copy bundles and printed bundles in a fraction of the time taken by law firms.
Having a portable eBundle during a trial is a cost-effective, yet efficient, form of eHearing. All parties, including the judge, can access the documents on their respective computers easily.
Another form of eHearing involves the engagement of a neutral third party evidence presenter to flash documents called out by the parties, either on a centralised projector screen set up in court, or on the individual screens/monitors of each party (lawyers and judges).
The evidence presenter assumes the role of searching for documents as they are called out by the lawyers, and frees up the lawyers to focus on the trial. This mode of eHearing involves more costs than the eBundle, because of the need to engage the neutral evidence presenter.
A more enhanced version of an eHearing system includes the incorporation of real time transcription. This allows lawyers to annotate on the relevant documents (in the trial bundle and the real time transcripts) and communicate with members of their respective legal teams while the trial is in progress.
An example of such a system is the Magnum electronic Bundle and eHearing system provided by Opus2. The trial bundle is created on Magnum, an online system. All parties access the trial bundle documents on Magnum. Each individual team member has their own private workspace to annotate the documents (highlighting and tagging each line/paragraph, with notes on what the witness is saying, questions for cross examination, etc.). While both parties see the same documents, each party’s annotations can only be viewed by the author and members of his/her team. The collaborative platform even enables lawyers to remotely follow the evidence presentation remotely, and to communicate with the lawyers in the courtroom. The transcription can also be viewed by all parties in real time. All documents which are called out during the proceedings are hyperlinked to the real time transcript.
This type of online eHearing platform does require more technical set-up, and the engagement of evidence presenters and real time transcribers. As the costs of the technology and the setup, the transcribers and evidence presenter, is typically shared by the parties, cost savings will be greater in longer trials, involving many parties.
Such eHearings are seen far more in arbitration cases, particularly in large international arbitration matters which involve arbitrators, parties and counsel based in different countries. Arbitrators and parties can access all the documents and review all their annotations without having to travel with a whole lot of paper.
With the ever-increasing volume of evidence received at trial today, coupled with the relatively small size of the average Singapore courtroom, it may become physically necessary for law firms to make the use of eBundles at trial the norm.