Efficiency. E-filing should facilitate more efficient court processes and decisions.
First, once E-filing is implemented courts should re-engineered their rules and processes to take advantage of the new capabilities. A good example is the court in Baltimore, Maryland that adjudicated thousands of asbestos matters. The judge worked with the attorneys to group the electronic submissions 10 at a time containing identical facts (same shipyard, timeframe, and injury) and in turn modified the review presentation screen so that he could more quickly review and approve the civil settlement for the filers.
Second, as argued many times here in the CTB, e-filed documents should be self-registering into the courts case and document management systems. The US Federal Courts provided a “wizard”/Q&A approach to collect this data from their beginning e-filing in 1996. Today with “smart forms” and XML enabled word processing documents that data can be derived directly from the documents themselves.
Third, electronic documents simply must be able to do more work for their users than paper documents. Unfortunately, many courts continue to insist that E-filed electronic documents should continue to be functionally the same as their paper and much dumber cousins (images). Please consider that information entombed in a paper document is now locked as to its accuracy from the moment it is printed. It is essentially a timed information snapshot. This results in problems with information accuracy when that paper document is later used. One of many examples of this is when a person has a judgment vacated or set-aside. The original judgment document is still filed in the written case record. But later when the document becomes invalid, wouldn’t it be great if the original document could display a link maybe even a flashing icon to guide one to the more current order? Of course it would. The electronic document world can and should be information dynamic. The electronic legal research companies (Thomson-West and LexisNexis) are already providing tools that automatically perform cite and currency checks against statutory and case law. The hyper-links and icons indicate whether the citation is accurate or if the statute was changed. Paper documents don’t make the grade when judges, court staff, law enforcement, and probation are relying on the accuracy of that “locked” paper information to make decisions that affect people’s lives.
Fourth, building on the previous concept; electronic documents should not only validate themselves, but also the data contained therein. For example, the document could be used to automatically search and link to the appropriate databases regarding a persons’ status if they were on probation or had a civil protection order in another jurisdiction. The status and accuracy checks could be done dynamically when the document is displayed. This in turn reduces the need to capture status information in the court’s case management system (potentially, the CMS could watch the documents to automatically adjust status).
Last, there is an argument that the original document shouldn't be changed because presentation is as important as the information. The internet argues for both with the dynamic nature of the web page versus the static nature of PDF documents. Both have their place. Unfortunately we have very little experience in the courts with dynamic documents in comparison to static PDF/image documents. I believe that it is time that new presentation formats be tried.
Portions of this article were previously published in this CTB article: http://courttechbulletin.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-future-is-not-paper-second-in.html