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San Francisco’s superior court expects to see a tenfold increase in electronically filed documents for asbestos cases, now that a new filing requirement took full effect earlier this month. The court started an e-filing program for asbestos litigation back in 1998, but it had remained optional until now. Then the court issued a general order (.pdf) last month making e-filing mandatory, beginning Aug. 14. The complaint and summons are among the few asbestos documents that still may be filed on old-fashioned paper. Lawyers e-filed only about 10 percent of asbestos documents under the old optional system, said the court’s chief executive officer, Gordon Park-Li. Now that it’s required across the board, he estimates 68,000 asbestos documents will be e-filed in the San Francisco court every year. The change does mean some added front-end expenses for lawyers or their clients: Each transaction costs $8 to file with the court and $12 to serve on other law firms. The court’s regular filing fees also still apply. But there should be savings, too, because firms will presumably spend less on postage, paper or courier services, according to executives at LexisNexis File & Serve, the private vendor involved in the program. “As near as we can tell, just the sheer volume of this docket in San Francisco makes it one of the larger [e-filing] projects” in California, and perhaps the country, said Andy Levy, director of market development for the company. The court sought input from the asbestos bar by forming a committee involving some firms. Park-Li said he’s heard indirectly that some people miss the ability to make small fixes for any formatting mistakes while standing at the clerk’s window. “Our firm has been doing this since 1998, so we firmly believe it’s the right direction toward the future,” said committee member Jennifer Harwood, executive legal secretary and law and motion coordinator at Brayton Purcell, a plaintiff-side firm that handles a sizeable segment of the asbestos litigation in San Francisco. “Like any new product, [the challenge] is just to convince people who aren’t used to a new product like this that it can work.” The San Francisco court would ultimately like to head toward e-filing for other civil litigation as well, Park-Li said, but that will probably require some legislative changes because current rules allow local courts to create such requirements for complex litigation only.

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