Rewiring Old Architecture: Why U.S. Courts Have Been So Slow and Uneven in Their Take-Up of Digital Technology

26 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2011

Date Written: April 11, 2011


Given the centrality of information and communication to the activities and institutions of law and government it is not surprising that during the early turbulent days of the digital revolution enthusiasts imagined that the new technology would work dramatic changes on this critical sphere, changes far greater in magnitude than those flowing from such past innovations as calculators, tape recorders, or copy machines. Students of government and consultants drew analogies between transformations taking place in the private sector (the emergence of e-commerce and distributed, virtual enterprises) and what governments might or should or would become (e-government). Greater efficiency, improved accessibility and performance, and even gains in public accountability were predicted. Judged against such visions and the changes digital technology has brought about in important commercial areas over the past decade, the take-up of digital technology by U.S. courts has been both slow and uneven. This article examines some of the institutional factors that have produced this result. Three applications of the new technology to the work of courts furnish the basis for this investigation. In order, the article examines the extent to which U.S. court systems have: 1) adopted new modes of case citation that are independent of print law reports; 2) assured the availability of adequate and consistent online legal information to judges; and 3) transformed litigation from a process carried out by means of paper filings, paper orders and judgments, held and ultimately archived in official paper records to one reliant on electronic filings and data.

Keywords: e-Government, Neutral Citation, Online Legal Information, Westlaw, Lexis, Unified Courts, e-Filing, Digital Technology, Judicial Branch

Suggested Citation

Martin, Peter W., Rewiring Old Architecture: Why U.S. Courts Have Been So Slow and Uneven in Their Take-Up of Digital Technology (April 11, 2011). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-12. Available at SSRN: or

Peter W. Martin (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901


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