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Last month, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began its public implementation of electronic case filing. Lawyers who regularly handle 3rd Circuit appeals are likely to have already noticed two major changes. First, almost all court filings are now publicly available for download through the 3rd Circuit’s ECF Web site to anyone who has a PACER account. And second, the 3rd Circuit’s method of communicating with attorneys about case-related developments has switched from the U.S. Mail to electronic mail.

As a result, attorneys with business before the 3rd Circuit must ensure that the court has and is using their correct e-mail addresses. And attorneys who are filing documents containing information that is subject to being redacted due to confidentiality concerns – such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, home addresses, minors’ names, etc. – must now ensure that proper redactions are being made in the documents submitted for filing.

The 3rd Circuit has not yet implemented the part of its ECF system that allows or requires attorneys to file documents electronically by uploading them over the Internet. Of course, attorneys who file documents in the federal district courts are no doubt quite familiar with how to file documents, pleadings and briefs through the Internet. The 3rd Circuit expects to implement this aspect of its ECF system later this year. Until then, the court will continue to expect attorneys to file an electronic copy of appellate briefs through e-mail under existing procedures, along with paper copies of briefs and everything else being filed with the court.

It remains to be seen whether the 3rd Circuit’s implementation of ECF will ultimately relieve attorneys from having to file paper copies of briefs, motions and other documents. The 3rd Circuit has experimented in allowing rehearing petitions to be filed electronically and in allowing emergency motions to be filed electronically. It is doubtful, however, that the court will ever dispose of the requirements that briefs and appendices be filed in paper format, even though the 3rd Circuit has already begun to treat the electronic copy of appellate briefs as the official copy.

Throughout the nation, federal appellate courts have begun to switch to the ECF system that the 3rd Circuit is now beginning to implement. In the long run, appellate ECF is likely to greatly reduce the cost of storage, save a great deal of expense in postage and generate much additional revenue in PACER access fees because the court charges eight cents per page to access documents after providing attorneys in the case one free look.

Although eight cents per page seems like a nominal cost, the expense can quickly add up to a sizable amount when accessing a series of lengthy documents. Yet for most people, it is incredibly more convenient and much less expensive to access documents from the 3rd Circuit’s case files over the Internet than to visit the court in person. This, of course, is especially true for those 3rd Circuit practitioners based quite a distance from the court’s headquarters in Philadelphia.

In addition to implementing ECF on appeal, I hope the 3rd Circuit will consider other ways to make its Web site more useful and informative. For example, it would be wonderful if all of the 3rd Circuit’s case opening forms could be downloaded from the court’s Web site in a format that allowed data to be entered into them on the computer instead of having to use a typewriter. The 3rd Circuit has already taken this step with respect to its form for an attorney’s entry of appearance, showing that the technology to accomplish this convenience is known and available to the court.

A variety of other federal appellate courts – the 7th, 8th, 9th and Federal Circuits, to be precise – now provide free online access to their oral argument audio recordings. The 7th Circuit’s Web site also provides free online access to briefs filed in the cases pending before that court. And the 9th Circuit’s Web site provides free online access to the briefs filed for and against rehearing en banc in cases in which rehearing en banc has been granted. I hope that someday soon the 3rd Circuit’s Web site will likewise offer free access to these things, thereby greatly increasing the site’s usefulness.

I must admit that I am quite a fan of using technology on appeal. Without technological advancements, I would never have been able to establish my thriving solo appellate practice in suburban Philadelphia. Before this year is over, the 3rd Circuit will have transformed how attorneys file documents with the court, how the court communicates with attorneys and how information contained in the court’s case files is available to the public. Be sure to keep an eye on the 3rd Circuit’s Web site, where these developments will continue to be announced as they are implemented.

HOWARD J. BASHMAN operates an appellate litigation boutique in Willow Grove, Pa., and can be reached by telephone at 215-830-1458 and via e-mail at ,a href=”mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected] You can access his appellate Web log at http://howappealing.law.com.

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