Shimer College

June 17, 2014

Shimer Internship Blog:The Archiving Project, Or, Sisyphean Labor

A tale of never-ending boxes, and bringing the legal field into the 21st century.

While my interning duties at the ACLU of Illinois have so far tended towards the Administrative Department, this was my first week working specifically on a legal project.

The archiving project is one of the most important tasks that will be undertaken this summer by the interns. While we, in our everyday lives, tend to be so used to finding information by putting questions into our computers or phones, or finding our history, social, and medical records online through a few simple keystrokes, the world of information used to be much more complex to attain.

This reality especially holds true for the legal profession. As recently as twenty years ago, a predominant job of legal assistants and some lawyers was to simply collect all research, records, and precedence data. Over the course of many months, these individuals would read all the information they had collected – boxes and boxes of paper to process –and would pull the important content from these for the formation of cases, and even find single pieces of paper in these vast stacks during trials with minimal notice.

Since the dawning of more accessible technology and more efficient and portable electronic devices, many personal and professional fields – including law – have made the transfer to electronic data and research. With this leap, an attorney has only to type in a few keywords in the appropriate programs, and all cases and research with those keywords will appear quickly in front of them. This new reality has, naturally, greatly changed the realities of research procurement and documentation in the legal field.

While these technology-driven practices are efficient, for an organization like the ACLU that has been around for decades and has taken on such vast numbers of cases, turning all those records, research, and data into an electronic database is quite the daunting task. Walls of boxes stuffed full of every piece of paper from every ACLU of Illinois case line the walls of the conference room where the interns have spread out and taken over. Briefs, transcripts, legal research, expert research, exhibits, handwritten notes – all are to be found in every box, and all will be read by the interns, myself included. We read and scan all documents, record what we’ve done in an elaborate network of Excel sheets and folders, categorize where the hard copies will go post-scanning, and either destroy them or transfer them accordingly.

While the hundreds of boxes in the conference room are only the tip of the ACLU box-iceberg, and the tasks of reading, scanning, recording, sorting, and destroying seem Sisyphean in their daunting and seemingly never-ending existence, I have learned so much and gained so much from having access to these documents. It is a true honor to have the opportunity to read details, notes, and argument nuances from ACLU cases both that I’ve never heard of and  that I’ve learned about in history classes. The scope, bravery, and ingenuity never cease to amaze me, and my passion for the work that the ACLU does and has done, and my burgeoning passion about my own future in the field of law has been sparked. Thus far, my experiences within my internship this summer have been truly life changing.

-Tess Doubet King