Bar News - July 19, 2017
Federal Practice, Bankruptcy & International Law: Federal Court in NH Provides Resources for Federal Bar
By: Daniel J. Lynch
In the District of New Hampshire, the judges and court administrators regularly examine how we can improve access to justice and the practice of law in our court. That analysis includes, among other things, local rule revisions, process changes, improving information distribution and technological innovations. We very much value and encourage input from federal practitioners, which often serves as the catalyst for our local initiatives.
In 2013, I wrote in Trial Bar News about how the District of New Hampshire was attempting to leverage new technologies with the dual goal of improving both court efficiency and court services to the public and bar. I discussed the Jury Evidence Recording System (AJERS), which allows a deliberating jury to view and evaluate evidence on a large plasma screen using a touch screen kiosk. I explained the eJuror Program, which permits jurors to respond to jury qualification questions and jury summonses online through the court’s website. I also highlighted some future endeavors, such as an electronic CJA Voucher processing system, which is now implemented and allows CJA panel attorneys, expert service providers, court staff, and approving judges to electronically submit, review, and approve court-appointed counsel fee requests.
More recent technological innovations, as well as some process changes, are designed to improve the practice experience and provide easier access to the federal court and its resources.
Courtroom Technology Upgrades
Earlier this year, the court completed the process of upgrading the technology in all courtrooms to be compatible with current technologies and equipment (such as HDMI and wireless devices). Now all seven courtrooms in the Rudman Courthouse have the same hardware and software. Generally speaking, these upgrades improve the quality of video/document presentations as well as the courtroom audio system. The primary benefits to attorneys are:
- Courtrooms will be cross-platform ready (Microsoft Windows and Apple)
- Higher quality video and document evidence presentation in courtrooms via high-definition monitors (in the jury box, gallery, and behind the witness stand)
- Improved high-definition document camera
- Input touchpad screens that allow attorneys to control whether to project from their laptop, a wireless device, or the document camera
- Upgraded annotation monitors at the attorney podium and witness stand
- Wireless access for tablets (although cabling is available)
- Improved audio and videoconferencing systems.
Local Rule 83.15 requires attorneys who plan to use courtroom audio or video equipment to, among other things, make arrangements with the clerk’s office to familiarize themselves with the court’s technology systems no later than five days prior to trial/hearing. To do so, attorneys simply need to contact the case manager assigned to the case (case manager assignments are listed on the court’s website).
For years the court required counsel to review petit jury questionnaires in paper format in the clerk’s office. Because those questionnaires could not be checked out or removed from the clerk’s office, attorneys or their support staff would spend hours at the clerk’s office abstracting the information from those questionnaires for use during jury selection.
Two years ago, the court began sending those questionnaires in electronic format to counsel of record through CM/ECF at least five days prior to jury selection. While LR 47.1 imposes both distribution restrictions and destruction requirements, attorneys and paralegals can now review and abstract questionnaires at their convenience at their offices.
Website Upgrade/Opinion Search Engine
The District refreshed and restructured its website in 2014, providing new and better organized resources to the public and bar. Of course, the court maintained its popular database of published and unpublished opinions. In this most recent website iteration, however, the court addressed complaints regarding the quality of the opinions database search engine.
Clerk’s office staff worked with local practitioners to create a search engine that would accommodate Boolean logic and syntax, which allows attorneys to fashion search queries that are consistent with queries attorneys use in Westlaw and Lexis. As a result of this collaborative effort, lawyers can more easily and quickly identify opinions that are relevant to the legal issues they are researching.
CM/ECF NextGen Project
As all federal practitioners know, documents are now filed electronically in bankruptcy and district courts across the nation using the federal judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. That system, however, is nearly two decades old and uses technology from the late 1990s. Thus, in 2009 the United States Administrative Office of the Courts (AO) began developing the next generation of CM/ECF (NextGen CM/ECF). The fundamental goals of NextGen CM/ECF include: greater integration among the district, bankruptcy, and appellate systems; shared data with other judiciary systems; more streamlined processes; greater consistency, especially for external users; and greater efficiency through the use of new tools and technology. Although the AO’s rollout of NextGen has been significantly delayed, the court expects it will be released for district courts sometime in summer 2018.
From the bar’s perspective, NextGen CM/ECF will allow attorneys to have a single password to access PACER and the electronic filing systems for all federal courts in which counsel is authorized to practice. Later releases should include more streamlined, efficient, and guided e filing processes, more diverse noticing options (possibly including text and Twitter notices), and enhanced reports and search capabilities.
Court-Developed CLE Events
As a service to the bar, each year the court develops at least one free full day CLE (rotating between the Federal Practice Institute and a Mediation CLE). This fall the court, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Office of Mediation and Arbitration and the University of New Hampshire School of Law, will host an all-day free mediation seminar featuring John M. Lande and Susan Yates.
The morning session will focus on techniques mediators can employ to overcome impasses through advance preparation and working in caucus. The afternoon session will be devoted to techniques advocates can use to work effectively with clients, opposing parties and the mediator before and during mediation. The training will involve opportunities for attendees to practice new skills and discuss strategies using real and hypothetical cases. The seminar will occur on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, and registration information will be distributed in September.
Online Bar Admissions Application, Joint Bar Admission Ceremonies & Bar Cards
In 2013, the court implemented a new online bar admission application process. Rather than submitting a paper application, attorneys may now apply for admission to the District’s bar online and may pay the application fee by credit card or ACH debit. This new process makes it more convenient for attorneys to apply to the District’s bar and expedites the administration of their applications.
Incidentally, CM/ECF NextGen will include functionality that will allow attorneys to submit admission requests through CM/ECF itself. Additionally, for the convenience of new bar members and their families, for a number of years the District has hosted joint bar admission ceremonies with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Finally, members of the District’s bar can obtain Rudman Courthouse bar cards, which allows card holders to receive an “expedited” security screening (i.e. not required to remove jewelry, watches, shoes, or belts when passing through the magnetometer).
As noted earlier, many of the court’s innovations have come at the suggestion of our practicing attorneys. This is a result of the dynamic and interactive relationship judges and court administrators have with members of the New Hampshire bar. It is a unique relationship that our small District and bar affords and redounds to the mutual benefit of the bench and bar. I strongly encourage members of the bar and public to contact me, or Chief Deputy Pamela Phelan, with any thoughts or suggestions on desirable technology initiatives or any other matter impacting the practice of law in this judicial district.
Dan Lynch is Clerk of Court and a United States Magistrate Judge at the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire.