As of the end of 2016, all 50 states have implemented or announced plans to implement electronic filing systems for their courthouses. While the final realities of this change will take a few more years to reach all the county courts across the country, eFiling is a major move towards a more improved system for case filings.
eFiling benefits have already become evident in both the Federal and state court systems. If your law firm is new to the world of eFiling, or if your court is about to go live with the system, here are some of the things you’ll have to look forward to when filing electronically.
The most significant change electronic filing brings to law firms and individual filers is improved efficiency. Documents can be transferred through a secure connection, with no need to wait on a courier, or stand in line at the court, and you never need to leave your office to file a document at the last minute.
On the court side, clerks can move more quickly, going through each document back-to-back without additional transition time between filers. A few clicks and your document is processed in less time than if the clerk is shuffling through the papers in front of you.
Plus, attorneys don’t need to wait for case files to reflect the addition of new documents, the system will immediately update when new documents are filed.
Better use of resources
In the legal profession, paper is the primary commodity, with the average law firm using 20,000 to 100,000 sheets of paper per lawyer each year, according to a small survey by a Washington D.C. firm. These numbers are staggering, but make sense given that the average office worker uses an average of 10,000 pages per year.
Even accounting for the occasional print out of a document for revision or close-reading, eFiling eliminates the need to print out a final copy for submission, and allows filers to make last minute edits without printing an aspen’s worth of paper.
And, of course, the cost savings of eFiling is significant. At One Legal, for example, a typical eFiling costs as much as 80% less than a comparable physical filing. Transportation costs to and from the courthouses are eliminated, as are the hourly wages for the person waiting in line, whether courier or employee.
Electronic case filing (ECF) document storage is automatic and secure and reduces the storage needed for keeping paper documents. eFiling is one step closer to a paperless law office and court system, with all the advantages that are included.
When courthouses have digitally filed documents as their primary records, multiple people are able to check important files out at once. The full text becomes available to anyone who needs to see it, from wherever they are at.
The judge, court staff, and opposing party can all review case file simultaneously, with 24-hour access if needed, which keeps the entire case moving forward and everyone up-to-date.
Greater security for documents
Courthouse rules allow for anyone with a valid driver’s license to take a document from the court. With paper, it is impossible to track modifications to the file, and difficult to know if pages have been added or removed.
Digital files are difficult to modify, but it is possible. Which is ECFs like the Federal PACER and its stateside counterparts run regular audits of all filed documents to ensure that none have been tampered with or modified since their original filing dates.
With eFiling, the exact date and time of filing submission and acceptance has another layer of verification, and can be more easily linked to the entire case.
Improved connection to information
Paper documents must rely on the perception of the reader, and his or her ability to read closely while retaining key details. This is still an important part of digital document comprehension, but reading on a screen opens up other possibilities. Text searchability allows the reader to exercise greater control over the information, locating key words or phrases to confirm or take note of or track across pages, while bookmarks aid in navigation.
These and other key typography decisions help to create a document that is specifically designed to appeal to court staff reading it on a computer screen.
Digitally logged documents can be tracked remotely so that involved parties can view status changes, schedule out submission dates, and otherwise mitigate risks with greater transparency.
eFiling enables law firms to have a decreased dependence on couriers and third-party delivery services, who may or not be able to come through on delivery promises, or be held back by traffic and backlogged courts. Not reliant on the availability of a county clerk, electronic documents are considered filed as soon as you click ‘submit,’ with a time stamp to prove you met the deadline, down to the second.
Welcome to a 24-hour filing capability – no more limitations of court hours, you can stay a little ahead and file whenever, from wherever.
When getting documents to the court doesn’t involve a lengthy cycle of critical documents changing hands, your law firm has the reach to achieve more. eFiling removes one long step from the filing process, replacing what can be hours of time waiting and traveling with an upload and submission process that takes only minutes, and which any legal support staff member can do.
This frees up resources and energy that your in-house team can devote to streamlining your other workflows, improving client communication, consulting with potential new client communication, and increasing the reach of your law firm.
After long years of anticipation, eFiling is coming to a courthouse near you, and your law firm is about to benefit in several different ways. Start learning about the eFiling process and preparing your law firm to eFile in your county courts.
How has your law firm benefited from eFiling? Share your story in the comments