Lawyers waste tons of paper. We print and mail emails, spreadsheets, briefs, and case law. We print like crazy. While it may not be surprising to hear that attorneys use a lot of paper, it might surprise you to hear that, at least in California, it’s not really our fault. You can blame the law for that. In 2012, CA passed a law that basically forces attorneys up and down the state to waste tons of paper each day. When I found out this law I almost punched a wall. You’ll see what I mean below.
How Much Paper Do Lawyers Waste?
While there is not a lot of information out there on this, about ten years ago, the American Bar Association Section on Environment Energy and Resources put out a paper on “Office Paper Waste and How is It Linked to Energy Consumption and Climate Change.” The informal survey they conducted states that, on the high end, each lawyer uses about 100,000 sheets of paper per year. That is the rough equivalent of about 4.5 tons of CO2.
Why do they waste so much? Let me explain. Civil lawyers like me are governed by all sorts of rules. These rules say that in the course of a lawsuit, we must “serve” our documents on the other side’s attorney. This is absolutely necessary for America’s system of justice to work. Service isn’t the problem. The problem lies with how those documents are served.
Service Rules for Civil Lawyers
Traditionally, when you needed to serve a document on the other side’s lawyer, you printed the document out and mailed it via snail mail or FedEx. But that system is painfully outdated. The federal system has evolved passed this. When you file a document in federal court it is automatically emailed to the other side. But CA’s service law doesn’t work this way.
California’s legislature addressed email service in 2012 with California CCP § 1010.6 (a)(2) which states: “If a document may be served by mail, express mail, overnight delivery, or facsimile transmission, electronic service of the document is authorized when a party has agreed to accept service electronically in that action.”
So that would make it easy, right? Just get the other side to agree to accept email service. Does this happen? Um…no, not at all. Agreeing to electronic service makes life much easier (and cheaper) on your opponent. And opposing attorneys don’t do each other very many favors. Your job is to fight for your client, and that generally means making life as difficult as possible for the other side.
As a result of this ridiculous law we’re stuck mailing reams of paper in every case. This is shameful. Email should be the default, not the exception. When we mail stuff to the other side, most of those documents simply get scanned and thrown in the trash (only to be printed out again before trial). Even though paper product consumption is no longer a major contributor to global deforestation like livestock and agriculture, it is still a contributor. Moreover, transporting all that heavy paper up and down the state certainly adds many more tons of carbon emissions to our atmosphere.
California is Not the Only State with This Problem
I strongly suspect that CA is not the only state with this problem. Other states are probably worse. I did a real quick search of Nevada’s rules on civil procedure, and guess what, Nevada is basically the same. Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 5(d), “Service under this rule is made by…Delivering a copy by electronic means if the attorney or the party served has consented to service by electronic means.” I would bet that the lawyers over there mail egregious amounts of paper too.
What Do Attorney’s Want?
This is not a controversial issue among lawyers. I called up a lawyer friend of mine to ask for his opinion. Here is what he has to say:
“The rules on this are stupid. We should be required to email just about everything. It would save us a headache and make life much simpler (and cheaper) for our clients.” Branigan Robertson. Like a lot of the younger lawyers, Branigan is a tree hugger at heart. He complains about this all the time.
I’m sure if you asked 100 other lawyers you’d get 99 who would agree with Branigan. The one outlier would be a craggily old judge whose opinion shouldn’t matter anyway. So the next time you have lunch with a lawyer, senator, assemblyman, or judge, please mention this issue. The legal profession needs to change with the times!
Sean Reis is a personal injury attorney in San Diego. He’s been practicing law for over 20 years and you can visit his website at injurylawyerwin.com. When not doing law stuff he loves to spend his time playing with his kids and working out. Mr. Reis is an environmentalist and hopes that the legal profession moves towards a more sustainable future.