Smart-Phone-Office Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

It’s a sign of the times.

Starting next week, electronic devices will be permitted in New York’s 19th century Madison Avenue courtrooms during proceedings. It marks the first time that any of the departments of the Appellate Division have adopted a written policy allowing lawyers and litigants arguing pro se to use laptops, tablets and smartphones during oral arguments.

The policy was approved unanimously by the court’s justices. Until now, the First Department had a prohibition against using such devices in or out of the courtroom.

“Our new policy on the use of portable electronic devices is part of our efforts to bring the Appellate Division, First Department, into the 21st century,” said Presiding Justice Rolando Acosta. “Those efforts include livestreaming of oral arguments, which began last fall, the implementation of e-filing of commercial cases beginning next month, and installing Wi-Fi access points throughout the courthouse to provide free internet access.”

Acosta said he proposed the policy after consulting with members of the bar.

“When I talk to lawyers, the one thing I kept hearing is that there’s an entire afternoon of arguments and clients are paying me a lot of money to sit there and wait for the case to be called,” Acosta said. “Lawyers feel that’s a lot of dead time.”

Acosta said that allowing lawyers to use electronic devices to get to the exact spot in a 1,500-page document or for an associate to take notes about questions from the panel of judges will make the court run more smoothly.

“I think this is an incredible improvement, which I also think is part of the overall interest of the chief judge in making sure we are as efficient as we can be,” Acosta said.

Only those lawyers whose case is being heard will be allowed to use electronic devices in the courtroom. But outside the courtroom, there will be an electronic device area equipped with a monitor on which guests can view livestreamed oral arguments and lawyers can keep track of the court calendar.

The policy, which is posted on the court’s website, doesn’t, however, allow using personal electronic devices for photography or audio or video recording, transmission or broadcasting within the courthouse without the prior consent of the presiding justice, the associate justice then-presiding or the clerk of the court.

Until this week, the only one of the four departments with a policy on the use of electronic devices was the Third Department. The Third Department allowed the inaudible use of electronic devices within the courtroom and use of electronic devices outside of the courtroom. It also allows people to use electronic devices outside the courtroom.

Mark Bennett, the clerk of the Fourth Department, said justices in that court also allow the inaudible use of electronic devices if it’s not disruptive. That would, for instance, mean a reporter could quietly tweet during a court proceeding, Bennett said.

The Second Department has no written policy but is coming up with one. Requests to use electronic devices have been handled on a case-by-case basis.

The First Department policy goes on to state that the presiding justice, the associate justice then-presiding, the clerk of the court and/or the chief court officer can “prohibit activity that may be disruptive or distracting to court operations, or that may otherwise be contrary to the administration of justice.”