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Make no mistake: I have been an avid proponent of eFiling for decades. In fact, my enthusiasm for eFiling and mandatory eFiling at that, predated eFiling’s actual readiness for prime time by more than a few years. It would be a total mistake to take anything I say here as a criticism of eFiling.

With given that disclaimer, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the strongest they can and will cut you. If you are surrounded by sharp knives, you have little choice but to learn and practice that care and respect.

eFiling has taken off in a big way. To the public, or anyone outside the court, it looks bright, shiny, modern and efficient. Some courts, however, may be feeling surrounded.

90_Back EndI’m reminded of the Post Office scene from Men In Black II. In the back room, all the spiffy office equipment is humming along neatly in an apparently total automated system. Then all the panels fall from all the equipment, and inside it’s being run manually by a legion of inter-galactic worker bees.

The discussion regarding eFiling has evolved considerably over the past several years. As recently as five years ago, or even a little less, a couple of the serious questions were 1) Should eFiling be mandatory as soon as possible after implementation; and 2) Should it precede, be concurrent with, or follow implementation of ECM with workflow in the court?

Today, question one has been pretty resoundingly answered by everyone who has walked the road: It has to be mandatory. Until it is, the court is in for pain, expense, and a lot of extra work.

Question two is trickier. Just about everyone knows that having Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow precede or be concurrent with eFiling is optimum. Nevertheless, real world pressures are resulting in an uneven landscape. There’s a real benefit to mandating eFiling at a State or Judicial District level. Unfortunately, not all the courts may have a good way to connect the bright, shiny, eFiled electronic documents to their internal procedures and back-end systems.

Such courts have to deal with the non-optimum solution. Electronically received documents may be printed out; workflow will continue to be physical paper and file-centric, and manual data entry may be required to populate the back-end Case Management and other court systems. Many, many worker bees are working behind the scenes. Plus, they have to deal with their old systems, for which they barely had enough time anyway, and the NEW system makes additional demands on the court’s limited resources.

Courts caught in or facing this conundrum should seriously consider implementing an intermediate system to handle incoming eFiled documents. A web service interface coupled with ECM with workflow can accomplish a number of things.

  • Route for clerk review
  • Automate data entry to the CMS
  • Route for judge signature
  • Provide automated redaction of public-facing documents
  • Automatically publish to the court, city, county or other appropriate website for public view
  • Provide high-level visibility into the process and metrics on document data.

Five years ago, meaningful discussions considered whether eFiling was worthwhile. Today, that verdict is in: From a public and a legal system perspective, it’s a necessity. Furthermore, it has to be made universal and mandatory as soon as possible after implementation.

The second verdict, even if it hasn’t been announced, is already in the envelope. Once a court starts receiving eFiled documents, it’s going to have to connect them to its back-end systems and processes, and it will need to implement ECM with workflow. The longer it waits, the more pain, confusion and expense it will have to endure.