The Cost of Not E-Filing

Article excerpt

E-filing can lead to immediate cost savings and productivity gains with almost no up-front investment.

The fiscal crisis currently facing state and local governments continues to produce very real budget reductions in many state courts. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's initial proposed budget terminated more than $50 million of the state's trial court budget.1 Colorado's latest budget slashed $11 million from the state court budget, and almost 100 of the state's court employees are expected to be laid off.2 Unfortunately, these state court systems are not alone. Georgia's supreme court recently absorbed a 4.5 percent funding cut,3 and Florida stands to lose approximately 25 percent of its court administrative staff at a time when additional staff needs to be added simply to maintain the current level of service.4 Adding to the dilemma, the fiscal challenges facing the states show few signs of abating. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than half of the nation's states expect significant budget shortfalls through the 2005 fiscal year.5 Even if the economy improves significantly, there are underlying structural deficits. The growth of public sector revenues is not keeping pace with the growth in workload and in public expectations regarding service levels.

Given these types of reductions, it comes as no surprise that in 2002 the National Center for State Courts reported that almost 50 percent of the courts it surveyed claimed they had already delayed technology deployments, with well over 50 percent admitting they were at least considering a delay.6 These courts are understandably concerned about reallocating resources from already under-funded programs and services to technology investments without immediate productivity or cost benefits. However, jurisdictions putting technology projects on the shelf may be missing opportunities to streamline court procedures, increase efficiency, and reduce operational costs through better use of technology.

A promise fulfilled

While many of the technology applications that promise to ease the burden of reduced budgets and increased caseloads are long-term custom projects that require significant up-front investments, this is not true of all new applications. In particular, e-filing repeatedly has delivered results quickly and with little or no investment from the courts themselves.

E-filing is the process through which law firms file documents electronically with the court and serve them on participating attorneys via a secure, Internet-based system. Attorneys can also electronically serve documents that are not filed with the court, chiefly discovery. E-filing also enables parties, their attorneys, and judges to immediately access their case files via the Internet, eliminating the time-consuming process of obtaining files from the law office file system or requesting files from the court clerk. Although in most cases e-filing does not completely eliminate paper, the reduction of paper and immediate productivity gains provide substantial impetus for implementing e-filing without waiting for the economy to improve.

A well-planned e-filing system using reputable third-party vendors can be implemented with almost no investment from the court. With no large up-front investments of funds required, and in light of the potential savings, courts should take a close look at the cost of not implementing e-filing.

Ending the paper chase

Immediate cost savings and productivity gains from implementing e-filing arise from three factors-fewer staff resources to accept and file documents, easier access to documents, and reduced file storage costs. Paperbased filing is a resource-intensive process. On average, intake clerks need approximately 5 to 10 minutes to process a paper-Hied document, assess fees, and Ole the document. Intake for an e-filing at the Montgomery County District Court in Texas takes less than hair that time. …