State Bar of Georgia Office of General Counsel

Yesterday, I noticed that there is a proposed rule from the State Bar of Georgia to provide for electronic filing in Georgia courts. Of course, it’s just a proposed rule (PDF). And what comes of it may be simply a model rule for trial courts to follow if they choose to allow electronic filing. But it also might be light at the end of the tunnel for lawyers like me who are way sick of paper. In fact, the way trial courts work right now in the handling of documents is enough to make me want to poke my eyeballs out with a spoon. It’s not exactly fun to figure out a way to get a physical document to some distant land by 5:00 tomorrow to meet a deadline on a motion for new trial or habeas matter, and e filing would fix it. It’s also not fun to file a document in the courthouse basement and wonder how or when the judge on the case might learn of it.

In the late 1980s, when I was in high school, I worked for a law firm as their courier. My job was to go to various courthouses and file documents with various clerks, get the file stamp, and take physical copies to opposing counsel. The process seemed almost quaint then.

This year, I am approaching my 20-year high school reunion. And we’re still handling documents the exact same way in trial courts. Assembling the record for appeal, with a few exceptions, is still exactly the same process that it was the year the Titanic sank. I’m not sure what the issue is. Part of it is that lawyers can be un-innovative. For instance, what other profession is still using fax machines?

A uniform rule for e filing is, I hope, a step toward mandatory e filing in the future. Perhaps, then, I can retire the postage meter, and getting a leave of absence for a trip to Disney World or the filing of a conflict letter won’t burn a whole day every week for an assistant. It’ll have to be mandatory though. There are over 150 counties and Georgia and a blue million lawyers. Most will have to be sent kicking and screaming into the e filing era.

At the State Bar’s annual meeting, Chief Justice Hunstein announced that the Supreme Court of Georgia will require e filing there by the end of the summer and will soon move to the second phase of their e filing initiative to provide for the transmission of electronic records from trial courts.

My operation is paperless. I take notes on my iPad, my phone, or my laptop, and I maintain electronic files with a system for dealing with text notes and pdfs. It works great except for a few sets of occasions in my practice. One is when I visit an inmate in the prison system at a facility that won’t let my iPad or laptop in. You’ll see me often in distant lands buying convenience store paper and pen. The second is when I am in court and need to use paper with a witness or to fill out paperwork (you’ll see me borrowing pens a lot). The third is when I have any case in Butts County, Monroe County, or Lamar County where they equate electronic devices on par with weapons and refuse to allow anything but paper files in. The other is when I am working with co-counsel or opposing counsel that fetishizes paper (which is most of the bar, unfortunately).

The proposed rule will hopefully move us toward a system of file management throughout Georgia that is, if not in the 21st century, will at least be circa 1999.

share communicate.jpgYesterday, I was honored to be the guest of the State Bar of Georgia General Counsel’s office for their in-office CLE. The Office of the General Counsel is the group at the State Bar of Georgia who, among other things, that deals with bar complaints and attorney discipline. 

I was one of two speakers for this group yesterday. I was there to provide an overview of how criminal appeals work in the State of Georgia from conviction to direct appeal and to the State habeas process. The other speaker was Brian Mendelsohn, with the Federal Defender Program for the Northern District of Georgia. Brian talked about the Federal process.

Brian was great. The audience was great. Brian and I both got off of our prepared remarks and truly dialogued around the conference table.

It turns out that all Federal appeals have the same key events in the life of a case where the attorney-client relationship can go sour. State appeals in Georgia have their own key moments. In the Federal system, it all boils down to whether to take on an appeal waiver as part of a plea agreement or to plea without such a waiver. Conflicts also center around choosing when to object to information contained in a pre-sentence report.

In the State system, the three main areas where the attorney and client may find themselves at odds with one another include which issues to raise on appeal (particularly whether to assert an ineffective assistance of counsel claim), delays in getting the transcript from the court reporter, and the client’s desire to get his own copy of the transcript so that he can “help” with the appeal.

Beyond these key substantive things, there was one common theme that resounded in our presentation and our discussion with the group: communication is key. Even if the choice of issues is ultimately yours, it is important to explain as much as you can why you are doing what you are doing.

Even if communication involves relaying information that is not particularly earth shattering, it is important to communicate. For instance, “I don’t have the transcript yet” is news though it feels like it isn’t news. Making the client understand the process and the progress of his case is important even if the process is at a stand-still and there has been no progress.

So, thanks Brian and thanks State Bar General Counsel’s Office for the opportunity to share our thoughts on the criminal appeals process in the Federal and Georgia State system and how best to serve the clients who find themselves within that process.