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Trends in the Law

Our first blog in September will start a new series called “Trends in the Law.” The series will focus on changes in the practice of law due to technology. We kick off the series by looking at one way in which technology has transformed the court system and legal practice: electronic filing.

E-FILING: HOW IT BEGAN

Almost 30 years ago, electronic filing of court documents began with a service known as PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records. In 1988, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was one of the earliest jurisdictions to adopt the program. The Western District of Texas soon followed, and a PACER service center was later established in San Antonio. When Case Management/Electronic Case Files, or CM/ECF, came on board in the late 1990s, more courts began using the combined service. In 2001, bankruptcy courts went online. In 2002, 11 of 94 U.S. District Courts switched to e-filing, and 40 out of 90 bankruptcy courts were up and running. As a testament to the force of the technological revolution underway, by 2007—a mere 5 years later—electronic filing was nearly universal in all federal courts. To date, over 32 million cases have been electronically filed.

THE BENEFITS OF E-FILING

Almost all lawyers agree that the benefits of e-filing far outweigh the costs. In fact, saving money is one of the benefits: fewer paper files; not having to employ runners to file documents with the clerk’s office; and not paying copier charges are just a few examples of the cost savings associated with e-filing. Increased efficiency and better case management are also benefits of electronic filing.

An important aspect of having court cases online is the increased transparency and access such a system provides. Contrary to the prediction by critics that e-filing would result in a decrease in public access to court records and documents, the e-filing system has allowed for a wider range of documents to be viewed and obtained by a greater number of parties and people. For example, more pleadings, opinions and briefs are online and available than ever before. Another example is in multi-party litigation, where having the ability to email parties orders and opinions and having the parties receive those at the same time and on the same day as released by the court increases not only efficiency but fairness.

E-FILING IN GEORGIA

While e-filing is not universal at the state court level yet, some 20 states currently have e-filing systems. Georgia is in a transition process from paper to online filing. DeKalb and Fulton counties are the only counties that mandate e-fiing of court documents; many other counties allow it, however. In March of this year, a bill was introduced in the State House (HB 15) that would have required e-filing of all civil cases at the start of 2018 in all superior and state courts. The bill passed the House, but the Senate amended it to make e-filing voluntary, and the House voted to “disagree” with the Senate changes. The bill was sent to conference committee, and the members of the committee could not agree on compromise terms before the end of the congressional session. Therefore, the bill remains in committee for the beginning of the next session.

It seems only a matter of time in Georgia—and the rest of the states—before e-filing is the only way to file court documents. Unfortunately, there are different systems in different states, and within states, which complicates the transition from paper to digital filing. But now that the process has started, there is no turning back.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you love has been injured, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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