eFiling and electronic signatures: The basics

State courts across the United States (for example in California, Texas, Indiana, and elsewhere) are rapidly implementing electronic filing systems to replace the older practice of filing at the court window.

While the advantages of eFiling in terms of time and resources saved are substantial, it isn’t without its issues. One of the trickiest issues when it comes to electronic court filing? Signatures.

In legal practice, signatures serve two essential functions: (1) Creating a verifiable link between the document and the filing party; and (2) Providing verification that the contents have been reviewed and meet certain standards.

It’s important to know what the signature rules and expectations are for the documents you’re filing and the location into which you’re filing. We explain the basics below, but remember: It’s always best to consult your local clerk or local rules if you’re unsure.

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eFiling creates a verifiable link between the filer and the filed documents

Unlike fax filing or other methods of having a court messenger file documents on your behalf, when you eFile there’s a verifiable link between you, the filer, and the documents you upload and submit to the court.

That’s because eFiling systems require that you eFile using a login and password unique to you. This information follows through to the court’s computerized case management system, creating a direct link between you and the documents received by the court.

This is why, when you eFile using One Legal in Texas or a California court using the eFileCA system, you need to connect your One Legal and your eFileTexas or eFileCA accounts.

Therefore, most eFiling signature issues relate to documents signed by parties other than the registered user and where a signature is necessary to verify the contents of a filing. In these areas, court practice is diverse.

eFiling and signatures: Rules in the state courts

Most eFiling jurisdictions have therefore introduced rules that specify different signature requirements on documents filed under the filer’s name, and those that are notarized, sworn to, certified, made under oath, or containing the signatures of other parties.

However, even where rules have been made at the state level, local court clerks may have their own requirements. This is especially true in California where eFiling is being implemented on a court-by-court basis. This article is informational and general only. If you’re unsure of local expectations, it is always best to consult your local court rules or clerk directly.

California

Rule 2.257 of the California Rules of Court covers the requirements for signatures on electronically filed documents.

It states that, if a document is not signed under penalty of perjury then it is considered signed when eFiled. In reality, rather than leaving the signature line blank (though allowed), you might prefer to write in: /S/ (name of the person who signed the document).

Where documents are signed under penalty of perjury, or where the signatures of other parties are required, the rule states that original, “wet” signatures must be obtained. These signature pages need not be eFiled but must be retained and presented to the court or another party if requested.

Some courts, such as San Francisco Superior Court, ask that you submit a scanned image of the signature page when you eFile. The state rule, however, doesn’t specify and some local courts are content with the /S/ formulation, scanned signature images, or nothing at all (so long as the originals are available on request).

Texas

Rule 21(7) (The link is to the rules as updated in July 2016) states that either the /S/ formulation or a “scanned image of the signature” are sufficient “unless the document is notarized or sworn.”

Where the latter applies, original “wet” signatures must be obtained, scans of these originals should be eFiled and the signed copies retained for inspection by the court or other parties should they make a request.

Elsewhere

Similar rules are being adopted in Indiana (see page 22), Illinois (page 4), and most other jurisdictions where eFiling is being adopted.  

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