The Virginia Supreme has mandated that for this year certain appellate paperwork must be filed through email in PDF format.
When one files a petition for appeal in Virginia's Court of Appeals it is generally denied and a short order explaining the reasons for the denial is sent. If the party disagrees with the reasoning he asks for an in-person review by real, live judges and must file a one page explanation of what the Judge who wrote the order got wrong. Then you go explain it in person and try to get the case heard.
Comes now a new Rule of the Supreme Court of Virginia: 5A-15A. This Rule, which is only in place for this year, requires the one page explanation to be filed electronically, as an attachment to email, in PDF format.
Now, as far as I can tell, this Rule isn't online with the other Rules on the Legislature's site. And, so far I haven't had to do this (give me a couple months). In fact, I didn't even know about the new rule until today. How did I find out? An attorney who is less proficient with computers than I am was asking me how to convert her document into PDF in order to send it (my knowledge of computers compared to a 16 year old is probably weak but compared to some of my colleagues I sometimes feel like I could write source code for the Mars Lander). Later, before I went and checked it myself, another attorney confirmed the existence of this Rule and told me he had to go buy a $75 program in order to convert his files to PDF.
First, addressing the Rule itself: (A) Why mandate that this must be done electronically by all attorneys? I know guys who don't even have email accounts who practice law quite well (and it ain't only the older gentlemen). These people are going to have fits trying to adapt to this Rule. Is opening a letter and filing it that much more difficult than opening an email attachment, printing it out, and filing it? Don't get me wrong, I like the idea as an alternative method of delivery but see no great advantage to it.
(B) Why PDF? Have they never heard of RTF? RTF comes standard with every wordprocessor I've bought in the last ten years and it's usually available for the better ones found as freeware or shareware. PDF is not so readily available. Why choose a less available format? People always seem to forget that RTF is out there.
Second, solutions: Okay, all you panicking Virginia lawyers out there, I have a simple solution. Go to OpenOffice.org and download the free program (and if you're good people send them a few donations). You'll probably want to change its settings so that it saves in DOC format rather than its own format. Open Office has a number of programs but I use only the wordprocessor (I'm told the others work just as well as it does). If you use this wordprocessor for a while you'll probably never go back to Word. It is far better designed, easier to use, and provides you with better options.
In particular, at the very top, center (next to the printer symbol) is an icon of a sheet of paper with PDF at its bottom. Once your document is prepared you can hit that button and it will be saved in PDF format. No muss, no fuss. And you don't have to go spend $75 for a special program to do it for you.
Go get OpenOffice right now. The Court may impose flawed Rules but that doesn't mean it has to effect your pocket book. I'd like to see the Rules to continue to develop in this direction, but, hopefully they will allow for filings in the alternative (possible) and change the required format (doubtful).