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With a wry smile, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court administrator Dave Lawrence said the court’s civil e-filing steering committee would never have undertaken two-and-a-half years of intensive work if moving the civil trial division to e-filing wouldn’t increase the division’s efficiency. But joking aside, the end is in sight for the e-steering committee of 24 that has explored since March 2005 the best ways to implement an on-line system for every piece of paper filed in the civil trial division. The official launch of the e-filing system is still to be determined, but court officials predicted the system’s start date would fall in the first half of 2008. Meanwhile, committee members continue their outreach to prepare the bar for the shift from a hard copy, decades-old system to a modern, electronic filing system. In addition to several sessions held at past legal community events, members of the committee will be speaking about the e-filing systems for the civil trial division and the Municipal Court at this weekend’s Philadelphia Bar Association’s Bench Bar Conference. Attorneys will also be able to register for their e-filing user accounts after the presentation and talk to committee members on an informal basis about the new system. DVDs and user manuals also will be given out to guide attorneys and their staff through the new system. A group of 25 “super-user” employees from the First Judicial District’s court administrative staff and from the prothonotary’s office are well-versed in every aspect of the system and will be available to answer questions as the system is rolled out, Lawrence said. There also will be an overlap period between when the e-filing system first becomes available and when all hard copy filings must stop, Lawrence said. After the initial hard copy of a lawsuit complaint is served on the relevant parties, committee members said every succeeding filing will be conducted electronically. Notification of the filings will be sent electronically to all the involved attorneys. Committee members expect the e-filing will increase expediency and efficiency in the court system: multiple users will be able to view documents at the same time; users will have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access; time will be saved from eliminating courthouse trips by attorneys, their staff or couriers to turn in filings; postage costs will be reduced for both the court system and to lawyers; and the e-filing system’s two process servers and two document servers will ensure documents never get lost. Judge William Manfredi, Day Forward 2007 team leader and a member of the committee, called the e-filing system the electronic bridge over the “gap between what the law firms and the courts were doing.” He noted that document and case management systems were implemented years ago at both points of the courthouse and the law office, but hard copies still needed to be downloaded from the law firm systems, brought in person to City Hall and then uploaded into the courthouse system. “What e-filing is essentially going to do is bridge the disconnect,” Manfredi said. Daniel Siegel, an attorney and a consultant who helps automate law offices and has been an e-filing committee member since March, said the e-filing system will accomplish many goals: litigants will have instant access to pleadings; lawyers will be able to remotely file from anywhere – even “Africa on a safari”; paper waste will be prevented; it will not matter if an attorney moves to another law firm or moves into another office as long as their e-mail is up-to-date on the court system; and legal documents won’t be lost or destroyed “when someone accidentally spills a cup of coffee.” Siegel has seen studies that show 10 to 20 percent of employee time is wasted with paper shuffling, so he believes that it will be far more efficient when civil trial documents are handled electronically. “There are some lawyers who are scared or intimidated by the thought of filing electronically. It’s actually better in many ways,” Siegel said. “They’re going to get a quicker response from the court if there’s a problem with a pleading. That allows them more time to correct it. E-filing is a very clear message that they can’t avoid technology anymore. The court is going to require it.” Siegel also said he is impressed with the computer programming staff developing the e-filing system and how the court has undertaken the bar’s education about the upcoming systemic change. The new system has been under development by the court system’s in-house computer programming staff. Joseph Evers, prothonotary of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said with the institution of the e-filing system his staff will be able to spend less time on processing documents and more time on quality control and examining the accuracy of filings. The volume of filings, whether it is in hard copy or electronic form, “keeps us rather busy,” Evers said. Lawrence said the civil e-filing system was able to build upon the “robust” e-filing system in Orphans’ Court that will celebrate three years of existence this January. The Municipal Court also instituted its e-filing system in January 2005. But D. Webster Keogh, administrative judge of the trial division, noted the “great magnitude” of dozens of types of filings in the civil trial division in comparison to Orphans’ Court. The complexity of the civil trial division created a challenge in programming the civil e-filing division, Keogh said. Some coding must still be completed before the system will be fully created, but the greater part of the coding is completed, Harold Palmer, programmer manager, said. Lawrence said the new e-filing system required the upgrade of 8-year-old computers. Scanners must still be acquired for the initial period when litigators will still be filing hard copies and for pro se litigants who will still bring hard copy exhibits to City Hall. There are no plans yet to contemplate e-filing for the criminal trial division – beyond the on-line system in place between law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office – or for the family division, Lawrence said. Committee members are proud of the e-filing system that has been developed and predicted that it will be a model for other parts of the commonwealth. “This is probably going to be the best of the best,” Keogh said. Palmer will make a presentation about the civil e-filing process at the next gathering of the Pennsylvania Association of Court Management. Andy Stern, a partner with Kline & Specter and another attorney member of the e-filing committee, believes Philadelphia’s civil e-filing system is superior to the federal court e-filing system. He said that the committee has reviewed other filing systems, has invited input from the bar on what they would like to see in the system and has done excellent outreach to inform the bar of the impending change. “I’m impressed with their sincere efforts to make this the best system around,” Stern said. “I think we’re going to be one of the model systems.”

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