E-filing has been operating in USA courts for nearly 25 years. And yet, I have found that it is very hard to provide a quantifiable dollars and cents benefit list to the press and policy makers. So let’s think about the obvious potential “E-benefits” and see what we can count?
Litigant filing savings have been quantified thanks to a couple of studies there were done by E-filing vendors. In the 90’s Westlaw was involved in E-filing and at the time they quantified that filing cost $25 per instance. And earlier this year, CaseFileXpress released an updated study and they found a $75 per filing cost. In any instance we all know that paper filing is inefficient and hence expensive. If getting things were faster, cheaper and easier in the physical world versus the Internet then Amazon and Apple iTunes would have gone broke.
Information retrieval savings similarly can be quantified. However I remember that most of these quantification studies were done in the 80’s when LexisNexis and Westlaw were being introduced. In any event, because of the success of the US Federal Courts PACER systems we know that online access works and saves money. How much money it currently saves similarly needs to be updated.
Court budget savings. This has been a particularly difficult recent question to answer because the implementation of new E-filing and electronic document management systems in the past five years (leveraging fast Internet speeds and cheap computer storage). This is because the changes happened in parallel with the worldwide economic recession. This meant that in most courts personnel cuts (generally around 90% of court budgets are human resource costs) happened whether the court implemented the new technology or not.
However, while not a quantifiable cost, we can report that a real benefit implemented by the Utah state courts and our friends at the Bankruptcy Courts in California was the opportunity to restructure and reclassify their personnel staff descriptions. No longer were the court staff using their quill pens and books (actually the physical file room) to store and manage the courts records. Instead of course they were doing it electronically that in turn required different training and new skills. But again this benefit is hard to quantify to policy-makers.
Meeting increasing public expectations is the last point where quantification is difficult, but not impossible. We all know that the professionals and the public increasingly expects the court information will be accessible online. So the cost of not providing that information may possibly be able to be quantified in a before and after study of persons coming to the courthouse for information before and after implementation. I would guess that some courts have done this. I know we would appreciate hearing the results.
So for solid benefit quantification, at this point we are pretty much left with the famous Return on Investment work done by Manatee County, Florida. Therefore, I would like to issue a call / challenge for a court or court system to report on any studies that they have done to benefit all, or to undertake this research.
And please share anything that you believe will be helpful in the comments (that can be done anonymously by the way) below.
Last, if you see me at E-Courts next week, please say hi. I love to hear about all the amazing things happening in the world of court tech.