I recently attended a presentation by futurist Michael Rogers that sparked me to think about what the courtrooms of the 2020s might look like. According to Rogers, one of the next big advances in technology will be augmented reality devices, such as smart glasses. Google previewed that with its “Google glass” product, which was unsuccessful but probably because it was before its time. The technology will be able to provide you with a screen within your field of vision that will display content visible to you if you are wearing the glasses, but not others.
This may take litigation practice to the next level. Earlier this week I argued a case in the First Circuit. In preparing for such an argument, we all try to read many cases and pack as much information as possible into our memory. Five or ten years from now, more or less, a lawyer arguing a case might well be able to use this technology to aid his or her memory, so that if a judge asks during the argument about a particular case, your notes about that case, the key section of that case, and/or a thought about that case conveyed by your co-counsel may appear on screen in your field of vision, assisting with your real time response and augmenting your own memory. To be most effective, the computerized system would need to itself understand the question being asked and instantly display the relevant information. The same type of information would be displayed automatically if a question were asked about a particular aspect of the appellate record. A tech-savvy judge might have the same type of information automatically appear on a screen in front of him or her, perhaps along with another question suggested by his or her law clerk or a thought conveyed by another judge on the panel. In essence, human memories will be supplemented and collaboration enabled, in real time, by technology, perhaps taking the practice of law and judging to the next level. We still may not all have the “total recall” that Chief Justice Roberts had in his days as an advocate, and there still will be plenty of human expertise and skill involved in deciding how to use the information made available in one’s field of vision, but technology may make lawyers better advocates and judges better at judging as well. And some of us may be getting to the courthouse in our autonomous vehicles (flying like the Jetsons may take another decade or two beyond that). That is unless video conferencing becomes so close to being physically present that travel to the courthouse becomes a thing of the past.