Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eight Rules of E-Filing: Rule #1

Rule Number 1: All documents created by the court are stored in the electronic document management system (EDMS) are designated as “the official record”.

Why this rule?  Because many courts have and continue to maintain dual paper and electronic systems have reported that they have not benefited from their document management systems - simply because they are maintaining two systems.  Needless to say, doubling the number of systems is not a recipe for efficiency.  And while is takes time to transition from the paper file room to the electronic document system, the sooner that the conversion takes place, the better.
The reality is that many judges continue to demand paper.  Some argue is that it is their most efficient way doing work.  Some argue they are “too old” to change; and some simply distrustful of change because of the loss of control.  Therefore every system must be able to provide “paper-on-demand” for staff use.  But the printed copy is simply a work copy.  It is one that can be read, annotated, even temporarily filed in personal files but it is not the official file copy.

The truth is that electronic documents are more secure and more easily verified. Technically all electronic court documents would be assigned a single unique Uniform Resource Name (URN) as well as a digital signature hash.  Microsoft supports MD2, MD4, and MD5 hashing algorithms developed by RSA Data Security (  The URN, if used properly, can "future proof" document access and provide a significantly better approach to document authentication.

And most important, if made available the electronic record can be more easily retrieved and verified since it is provided through the official court website. The URN can also be used to access the document via the internet or even using text SMS to report the basic date of filing, court where filed, and the filer (perhaps the judge).  This concept potentially extends document validation to citizens with mobile cell phones who may not have access to computers and the internet and makes it more difficult for a forged document to be accepted.

And last, electronic documents can be validated via system audit “logs” created by through database system when a record is created in the CMS/EDMS that notes the user, date, time (to the thousandths of a second), and again, if captured, the signature hash.  These logs could in turn be written to backup or even write-once media as a check against data corruption and legal challenge.

Next – User Authentication.


For more on digital signatures and digital rights management (document file control) see the NCSC Future Trends Article: Digital Rights Management (DRM) Technology Will Change the Way Courts Work (PDF).


  1. James,
    I'm a bit late to the party here, but I enjoyed and agreed with your post. I was wondering if you know of any US courts that are using the URN concept within an electronic document management system? We are a provider of these systems and have not yet encountered a site using such a concept.

    Scott Bade
    ImageSoft, Inc.

  2. URN:Lex is a very new concept here and I dare say elsewhere. But it is a very important one and I believe it or something similar should be adopted in all systems.