New Zealand Law Society - A Moment in Time: Judges learn how to use computers

A Moment in Time: Judges learn how to use computers

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Judges receiving computer training
Judges receiving computer training

It's some time during the 1990s and a group of judges are being taught how to use computers for legal research. In a time when legal practice is totally connected to desktops, laptops and mobile devices, it might be worth noting that in 1990 the use of computers for legal research was very much a novelty. The judges in the picture are entering a new and exciting world (and those laptops would have been state-of-the-art). Working from home in our Level 4 COVID-19 world is very much a reality. It would not have been possible in 1990.

"In 1990 computers were starting to appear in businesses around New Zealand. Some members of the legal profession enthusiastically adopted the new technologies, but others remained aloof," states Geoff Adlam in Local to Global: The history of Brookers 1910-2010 (Thomson Reuters, 2010).

"New Zealand Law Society surveys in 1995 and 1998 found that while larger law firms were adopting 'technology' (ie, computers and email), many smaller firms were not. Only 20% of fee earners in firms with two to five partners had computers in 1995, rising to 46% in 1998. In contrast, 49% of non-fee earners had computers in 1995 and 80% in 1998 - indicating that technology was still mainly used for word processing rather than legal research. In 1994 a New Zealand Law Foundation survey had found that 90% of all law firms used computers, but only 37% used them for research."

Electronic publication of the law in New Zealand started with the development of case law databases.

"In August 1986 the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting approved making the full text of judgments in the New Zealand Law Reports available through LEXIS, beginning with the 1970 annual volumes," Local to Global says. "Law Library Management Ltd sold its first BRIEFCASE case index using INMAGIC software in 1988, and Auckland District Law Society's index of cases was made available for searching by library users in the same year. In 1988 KIWINET (capitalised names being in vogue) was launched by the National Library of New Zealand. This was a dial-up database hosting service. Auckland combined with the Canterbury and Wellington District Law Societies in February 1989 to launch LINX on Kiwinet as a searchable database of the cases held by the three societies. BRIEFCASE also appeared on Kiwinet at the same time, and Court of Appeal decisions, Parliamentary Bills, Labour Court judgments and Planning Tribunal decisions were added by the end of 1990."

The first New Zealand digital legal products were released in 1993 and 1994. Brooker's Statutes of New Zealand was launched at a high-powered ceremony at the old High Court Building in Wellington in January 1994. Attorney-General Paul East QC addressed the 200 guests. A few months earlier Status Publishing had launched the first digital product, with their version of the New Zealand statutes.

While online delivery of legal information was still in the future, the judges in the picture would have been accessing information delivered on CD-ROM or even, possibly, floppy disk. Early digital products were updated monthly or quarterly, with the new CD-ROM mailed to the innovative new purchaser. Problems of software were big, with several different systems used (Recall Plus, Topic and INMAGIC) in New Zealand until pressure from law librarians pushed all New Zealand publishers into using the Folio Views software as standard.

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