Court Technology Bulletin

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Going Green with E-filing

This article was originally published in the Winter, 2008 edition of the Texas Paralegal Journal and is posted here with their permission.  It provides additional arguments for savings via E-filing as discussed in our earlier post: Calculating an E-Court Return on Investment (ROI)


Going Green with E-filing  by Tammy Carter, General Manager, and Dr. Carole Pettijohn, CaseFileXpress, LP

With all of the talk about “ green business”, it was inevitable that law offices would get caught up in the move toward more environmentally friendly practices.  Law offices are massive consumers of paper and related printing/copying supplies.  In a study done by GreenOrder, it was estimated that the average attorney is responsible for the use of 800 sheets of paper (nearly all 100% virgin pulp) and that the average law firm consumed about a ton of paper per attorney for its copying need (Makower, 2007).  It has been estimated that a half ton of paper from production to recycling, results in the generation of about 9 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) - equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. (Disposal in a landfill results in an additional two more tons of such emissions per year.)  The ABA instituted the Climate Challenge to increase awareness of the impact that the massive amounts of paper has on the environment.  This has resulted in various suggestions for reducing the carbon footprint left by the legal profession.  Most of the suggestions though are still based on the assumption that documents need to be printed and distributed in hard copy but one of the top ways the ABA suggests that you can go green is to “cut out the paper” (ABA, 2008).  E-filing technologies enable law offices to reduce the amount of paper that needs to be printed, copied and distributed which in turns saves trees (and a provides a significant saving in their office supply budget improving their bottom line).

E-filing technologies have come of age.  By the end of 2007, 26 states had adopted rules allowing for e-filing and all federal courts are expected to offer e-filing (Matthais,2008). The State of Texas, through Texas Online, has been a leader in expansion of the use of e-filing.  The benefits of e-filing have been touted as the use of e-filing has gained acceptance.   Among the benefits most often mentioned are convenience, timeliness, accessibility, flexibility/accuracy, security and cost effectiveness.

Convenience

With e-filing you can e-file from any location as long as you have Internet access and you get immediate confirmation that your documents were filed successfully.  You no longer end up waiting in long lines nor do you have to wait to file until business hours.  Additionally, if you live any distance from the courthouse, you can complete your filing and have it filed within minutes of completion, saving the time (and gas) used to get your documents filed.

Timeliness 

Timing is everything and with e-filing, the courthouse doesn’t need to be open to file your documents on time.  No longer are you confined to filing during the regular business hours of the court. In the past attorneys living some distance from the court had to complete the brief in time to either drive or mail a hard copy in order to meet the filing deadline.  With e-filing, the brief can be filed with a confirmation from the court within 30 minutes of completion 24 hours a day. This saves staff time, courier fees and gasoline.

Accessibility

E-filing has also opened up an array of accessibility options.  Courts have started to provide access to electronic documents through the web.  Additionally, e-filing allows attorneys representing various parties to have immediate access to documents via public access or e-service options instead of having to wait days to receive briefs in the mail.

Flexibility and accuracy

With a web-based e-filing system, no special software is needed.  E-filers prepare their documents as they would to file in person. All standard document types and formats are accepted by the e-filing system which converts the documents into standard PDF files which cannot be modified but are searchable. Court fees are calculated accurately by the system eliminating the guessing or court interaction needed to calculate fees.

Security

With respect to the security of the e-filing documents, state, national and industry standards guarantee filing security.  The records cannot be altered and are filed just as presented.  Additionally, in light of the recent disruption in service in South Texas due to Hurricane Ike, e-filers were back in business the Monday following the storm as copies of the filings are kept on the e-filing servers and the courts could accept filings electronically with a minimal staffing presence. Firms and courts that do not participate in e-filing and were in the evacuation zones, had to deal with equipment loss and the loss of paper records. In fact, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the only way to file in Harris and Brasoria Counties was through e-filing.  Certainly e-filing is one strategy that should be included in any disaster recovery or business continuity plan for courts.

Cost-effectiveness

While users of e-filing complain about the fees associated, once the savings are considered, e-filing is very cost effective and as the number of e-filing transactions increase, e-filing fees may start to come down.  By maintaining and filing records online, the cost of paper storage is dramatically reduced.  Courier fees are reduced or eliminated.  Organizations that have taken advantage of the e-discovery and e-service options have significantly reduced copying and costs associated with distribution. Staff time spent in line at the court filing, tracking status and finding documents is reduced.  Finally, the time spent calculating the correct filing fee is eliminated as e-filing systems are able to accurately calculate the appropriate charge.

Survey

In order to evaluate the anecdotal evidence of the benefits of e-filing, an informal survey was conducted during August and September 2008.  The survey asked current e-filing customers to rate e-filing services in light of the above benefits.  The respondents were asked to rate various questions about their experience with e-filing based on a 5 point scale, 5 equating to “strongly agree” and 1 equating to “strongly disagree”. Some of the questions and their responses are as follows:

When asked “I use e-filing because it’s convenient”, the average of all responses was 4.71 suggesting that a majority were in strong agreement with the statement.  “I use e-filing because it’s cost effective” was given an average rating of 3.96 suggesting that a majority were in agreement with the statement.  Another set of questions focused on whether e-filing has made the job easier by specifically targeting several presumed benefits. When asked to rate the following job attributes the scores were:

Statement
Average Score
I get my file stamped copy quicker
4.3
The time and date stamp is immediate
4.1
Keeping up with my case load is easier
3.9
Tracking status of cases is easier
4.1
Reduces stress
4.1
E-filing has helped to reduce paper storage.
3.7
E-filing has reduced the amount of discovery copying. (e-filing has reduced the need for printing and copying – I now email the file stamped to clients and co-counsel)
3.8
The security within E-filing prevents unauthorized filings.
4.0
Travel cost and time has been reduced with e-filing (automobile costs, travel time, courier fees have been reduced with e-filing).
4.1
E-filing saves time we used to spend filing and locating files (Now it’s all in one place on my computer)
3.8


All of the scores above suggest that the respondents were in agreement (and some were in strong agreement) that e-filing has helped them perform their jobs more efficiently and has saved time and money over conventional means of filing their documents.

When asked a series of questions about E-service, the results were as follows:
Electronically serving opposing counsel with discovery or court filings reduces :

My time ......................2.1
Paper usage...............1.8
Mail / courier costs......2.0

Again, based on these results, respondents were in agreement that when used, e-service has saved time and money.  Many of the respondent’s free form comments had to do with the fact that not all jurisdictions were signed up for e-filing and not all attorneys had signed up to receive service electronically.

While this survey was limited in scope, it is an indication that e-filing is rapidly becoming one way for law offices to go green and provide cost savings when the total costs for filing and maintaining paper documents is considered. Over the next few years we should see an increase in firms interested in reducing their carbon footprint and providing an effective business continuity procedures turn to e-filing as an effective strategy.

References:

American Bar Association; (2008); FYI: Going Green; http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/fyidocs/gogreen.html

Fosmire, M. Sean (2000); Who Benefits From Electronic Filing? LLRX.com; http://www.llrx.com/extras/filing.htm.

Matthias, John T. (2008); E-Filing Expansion in State, Local and Federal Courts 2007. NCSC Trends.
http://www.ncsconline.org/WC/Publications/KIS_CtFutu_Trends07.pdf (page 34)

Makower, Joel (2007). Law Firms and the Greening of the Brief. Two Steps Forward. GreenBiz.com. http://makower.typepad.com/joel_makower/2007/07/law-firms-and-t.html

5 comments:

  1. Agreed Content Valube to time spend to your blog. By Brochure Printing

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for wonderful info

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are both very welcome. There are many that still argue to maintain the current costly paper-based approach. These articles are meant to give courts information to counter the natural conservatism of the legal culture. Thank you again for commenting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm a little confused about the numbers (ie agree/disagree scale)... It says that 5 is strongly disagree, but you say an average of 4.71 means they strongly agree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for alerting us to the error. We fixed the qualification sentence. It should have (and now does) read - "The respondents were asked to rate various questions about their experience with e-filing based on a 5 point scale, 5 equating to “strongly agree” and 1 equating to “strongly disagree”."

      Delete

 
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