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O’Connor is a Seattle consultant who worked for Courtlink Inc., prior to its purchase by LexisNexis. After an initial burst of activity several years ago, e-filing seemed to go nowhere fast. That all changed this spring, when BearingPoint Inc. (n�e KPMG Consulting) and Microsoft Corp. announced a joint project in Texas. E-Filing for Courts – with underlying technology based on Microsoft.NET – is being tested in two Texas counties. Lawyers pay $4 for each electronic filing, with the fee going to BearingPoint and Microsoft. Because EFC is a managed service, courts participate without incurring the cost of acquiring, building and operating the system. Plans are pending to offer states a revenue-sharing option. Under this scenario, attorneys register with the service provider and pay fees which the provider would share with the court. The Texas project has generated renewed interest in e-filing nationwide. Why? Because in the past, the high cost of entry for the courts, combined with an apparent lack of interest by attorneys, made e-filing a questionable commercial proposition. The most successful projects were in large cases where filing was mandatory, such as asbestos litigation in Massachusetts, Dallas and Miami, run by Verilaw Technologies Inc.; and projects in Baltimore city circuit court and Washington, D.C., superior court, run by LexisNexis. Less successful were attempts to automate entire jurisdictions. As a result, several companies went under, and the largest, CourtLink Inc., struggled until it was acquired in 2001 by LexisNexis. Is there a viable approach to e-filing that makes commercial sense for private companies? Speaking at a recent conference, James McMillan, director of the court technology laboratory at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., suggested that a major barrier is that, in any given jurisdiction, 20 percent of the courts manage 80 percent of the caseload. Given this imbalance, commercial efforts must necessarily focus on larger courts with higher caseloads, said McMillan, co-author of A Guidebook for Electronic Court Filing (1999, West Group). Smaller courts are simply not commercially attractive. This scenario led McMillan to develop the inCounter open-source e-filing system (www. court-tech.org/incounter). The simple system demonstrates e-filing, and is a no-cost, open-source program that can be used by any court. Seeking Credibility Why do Microsoft and BearingPoint believe they can make money? We put that question to the people in charge of the project. In a conference call with Gary Miglicco, BearingPoint’s national director for e-government services, Frank Giebutowski, Microsoft’s general manager of state and local government, and Brad Ipsan, solution manager for Microsoft government, we asked why they believe their alliance will be different from other projects that failed to gain momentum. The key is credibility, said Miglicco. The combined presence of the two companies will lend credibility to the Texas project that will help carry it to the next level. Past e-filing projects had problems, he said, because they were based on single large cases and then attempted to grow a larger market. Under the “large case” scenario, technical management, marketing, software development and even document management at the court were all tasks that the e-filing company needed to provide. This was simply too large a burden at too high a cost for most companies, most of which were small start-ups with insufficient capital to support the implementation of a significant number of such projects. In contrast, Miglicco said, BearingPoint and Microsoft will provide an e-filing component directly to the courts that will work with all case types anywhere in the jurisdiction. Because it is standards-based, it will work with any other open standard interface (including inCounter), allowing any commercial vendor to create and market its own interface. The result is an e-filing structure that leaves court implementation to the courts (at no cost to them) while allowing private vendors to develop and market a user interface to law firms. Neither party needs to engage the costs of developing an entire e-filing system; both can concentrate on what they do best. Courts and vendors will work together as long as vendors develop an interface consistent with the open standards model used by the EFC project. This approach was critical to Microsoft’s involvement, said Giebutowski. “Microsoft wants to drive services for the courts and their customers,” using a system “that is either no-cost or low-cost up front to the court.” Will it work in Texas? It has already proven attractive to LexisNexis, which is working with Microsoft and BearingPoint to provide access to its File & Serve (n�e Courtlink eFile) service. Andy Levy, LexisNexis File & Serve marketing manager, says the combination of the efforts of these three companies will provide a “shift of weight” to help build critical mass. Will success in Texas mean similar projects will succeed in other jurisdictions? Perhaps. But keep in mind that the most successful e-filing project is the publicly-funded federal Case Management/Electronic Court Filing project, a proprietary system that was developed concurrently with, but not in conformance to, the XML standard adapted by other e-filing projects, including the EFC. Launched in 2001 by the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, under the direction of J. Michael Greenwood, CM/ECF systems are in use in 17 district courts, 53 bankruptcy courts, the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. More than 30,000 attorneys and others have filed documents in more than seven million federal cases, and all courts in the federal system are anticipated to be on the system by the end of 2005. Similar court-sponsored projects are under development in several states, including Washington, Georgia and California. All of which goes to show that although the Texas project holds great promise, it is not the only feasible approach. Other models have been developed and will continue to emerge, as individual courts seek the best possible answer to their e-filing needs.

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