I am often asked why all courts don't follow the U.S.Federal Courts approach to e-filing...especially in light of the way technology now dominates almost every aspect of our professional (and often personal) lives. As one blogger puts it: "Is it a matter of tradition, much akin to the english practice of wearing wigs? Would our [state] courts be the last place where we will find paper?"(see Law and ICT blog at https://lawandict.blogspot.com/2009/02/e-filing.html)
My response? They likely will be.....but there is hope in the interim.
The U.S. Federal Courts have a common platform from which to host a national e-filing solution...aka PACER. Unfortunately, state courts don't have the common platform, nor the funding, to be able to implement a common solution across multiple states. And, you simply cannot expect a court to be able to just "accept my email" document as a filing. Email isn't secure, nor is it manageable when you think about how the courts would process, certify, manage and store all those emails from varying email systems, document types and sizes...and then there is that dreaded DEL button that (in my opinion) should be banned from an email system altogether!!!
Courts want e-filing systems in place and want those systems to seamlessly integrate with their existing case management systems. However, the reality is that it costs millions (and millions) to build and maintain and support e-filing systems. So, who foots the bill? The federal courts through PACER have an advantage over state courts and other court systems due to a single case management system and funds to build and support. Since every state court has its own system, and often those are home-grown, it becomes a daunting tasks to implement e-filing.
In fact, we at LexisNexis File & Serve we have been in the e-filing business almost 15 years now and are still just scratching the surface for providing e-filing solutions in state courts. Each court wants e-filing customized to their own workflow, their own systems and their own personal preferences (can it be orange?).
"How will fees be handled, where will documents be stored, what are the changes to filing deadlines, can it integrate with my CMS, we need this feature to do something else (or we flat out need different features), what about public access, who will train and support the lawyers, and by the way, we need it purple, not orange...is that a problem"?
The list goes on about what each court wants and needs to be able to use e-filing. And, by most definitions, e-filing DOESN'T include a service solution whereby the parties can serve and share case documents with the other litigants.
Yes - building (and importantly maintaining) e-filing systems is complicated!
So, the legal community is left with varying options and degrees of e-filing implementations (from none to fully functional).
In the meantime, there are ways that attorneys can leverage many of the benefits that come with using electronic solutions for managing cases. e-Service is one of those, wherein parties can use a common platform, yes...like File & Serve, to exchange documents and maintain case information (huge perk - one online shared service list), and dramatically reduce the costs associated with managing outbound and incoming service documents (up to 80% savings). Some states already have rules in place that allow for e-service. Attorneys in other states are simply stipulating to the use of e-service or proposing Motions to the court to allow e-service.
And, JUDGES are using e-service too as a way to get immediate and efficient access to casefiles (ever had a hearing delayed because the clerk's office cannot find the casefile jacket?) and as a way to easily and efficiently distribute court documents to the parties (like important Orders and such that you are waiting patiently to get to your client!).
So, while there may not be e-filing in a court near you soon...there is hope and options to lawyers and their clients to have immediate impact of the cost and efficiency of their cases. Share the good news!