V. ACCESS TO JUSTICE INTEGRATION WITH EMERGING COURT TECHNOLOGIES (JAMES E. CABRAL & THOMAS M. CLARKE) (232)
Courts have now been accepting e-filings for two decades. (233) The business processes, technical requirements, and funding models for e-filing are now well understood. The reduction or elimination of the long-term storage and maintenance of paper records has motivated many courts to implement e-filing. (234) Advantages include fewer delays in filing, more convenient access to court documents, and more reliable court records. (235) By mandating the use of e-filing by attorneys in most district courts, the federal courts have managed to increase access by supporting twenty-four hour filing while reducing the cost and time of scanning by the clerk. (236)
Online access to court records is now an expected service of federal and state courts. While the convenience of remote access to court records at all hours has benefited both attorneys and SRLs, access to e-filing has not been universal. In a 2009 survey of state and local courts, only 41 of the 107 courts participating in the survey supported any form of e-filing. (237) Most e-filing programs have initially focused on high-volume, expert users--primarily private attorneys. (238) Without e-filing, SRLs would have to physically visit a legal aid office and the court to prepare and file legal documents. (239) Courts would have to accept the documents as paper filings and scan them for entry into their electronic document management systems. (240) Today, multiple vendors and nonprofit organizations provide document assembly solutions and simplified forms for SRLs such as HotDocs, (241) Adobe LiveCycle, (242) I-CAN! Legal, (243) LHI, (244) and Intresys TurboCourt. (245) To increase adoption of these solutions, however, we must make them easier and less costly to implement.
We propose using open technical standards to foster and support an application ecosystem for e-filing. This ecosystem strategy would create a competitive marketplace for legal assistance applications, similar to a smartphone application store. once the technical interface requirements are published, anyone would be free to build an application that supports e-filing and could work in tandem with applications built by other groups. The following section discusses SRL e-filing in the federal and California courts before suggesting an approach for more universal e-filing through the use of open technical standards. It concludes with a vision of future electronic court processes enabled by wide adoption of the standards.
B. Existing E-Filing Systems
1. The Federal Court Experience: New Jersey and Pro Se Pathfinder
Because of the complex nature of bankruptcy, federal bankruptcy courts strongly recommend that prospective debtors seek legal counsel. (246) Despite this warning, the number of SRLs in bankruptcy courts has increased since 2006. (247) Even though the courts had moved to efiling, they were still burdened with a large number of SRLs filing documents in paper form. (248) This meant that handwritten bankruptcy petitions were still coming to the courts, which inevitably led to mistakes in transcription and bad data. (249) Therefore, the Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey began a project to develop services for SRLs known as the New Jersey Pro Se Initiative ("Pro Se initiative") in 2007. (250)
The Pro Se Initiative provided a "way of making [SRLs] aware of what it takes to file a petition while improving the accuracy of the data they submit in their petitions." (251) Attempting to make the process as simple as possible, the Pro Se initiative began by using fillable forms with pop-up instructions that directed an SLR to enter the appropriate data. (252) As the SRL answered the questions, the information would populate a data-enabled form. (253) The actual form could then be submitted to the …