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George Lucas, the movie director, told Vanity Fair that he had to wait 16 years for technology to catch up to his imagination before he could make Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Those in the world of e-filing, the electronic filing of court papers, must be feeling the same way. It takes a Herculean effort to make it easy for lawyers to deliver court documents electronically and to access cases over the Web. This explains why so few courts have adopted e-filing. But as deadlines for pilot projects loom in courts in Orange County, Calif., and Colorado, and the competitive landscape is redrawn, the game is getting more interesting. Witness the following: SCT Corp., which specializes in building court systems, created software that receives filings from the attorneys, processes them and integrates them into a court’s case management system. This program is crucial to a smooth rollout at the end of the summer in the family law pilot of Orange County Superior Court. The vendor handling the front end — the system through which attorneys will send filings to the court — is WestFile, a division of WestGroup. In April, SCT sold this so-called middleware to West’s main e-filing competitor, JusticeLink, which itself is rolling out e-filing in Colorado. “We saw that the vision of what the product could be was similar to JusticeLink,” says Frances Moscoe, vice president of marketing at SCT. With JusticeLink as its exclusive electronic filing partner, SCT looks forward to approaching courts with a complete solution, one that includes both front-, middle- and back-end software. “Our court case management system is especially tailored to work with [JusticeLink's] system,” says Moira Rowley, SCT’s solution strategy manager. “We’re looking at it from a court-centric view.” According to Scott Schumacher, the director of WestFile, SCT had other reasons to hook up with JusticeLink, which recently received a healthy dose of venture financing: SCT “needed financial backing to get the product to market.” Not so, says Moscoe: “JusticeLink can provide tighter focus on EFM [electronic filing middleware] because they are an e-filing provider. To that extent, I think it is a good place for this product line.” JusticeLink merged on May 1 with a court-document retrieval vendor, CourtLink. As part of the middleware transaction, SCT received an equity stake in the new company. So what will it be like for two competitors, JusticeLink and WestFile, to find themselves working together in Orange County? Says Henry Givray, the chairman of JusticeLink, “The fact is that in business, examples abound where competitors are both competitors and partners in business.” Adds Schumacher, “As long as [JusticeLink] can deliver [the middleware] on time, that’s fine.” “I approach the partnership as everyone bringing something significant to the table,” says Alan Slater, the clerk of Orange County’s court. There is plenty of work to divide between JusticeLink, WestFile and other vendors. In state courts, there are about 40 million to 45 million cases, not counting traffic cases, filed each year. In Orange County alone, 2.5 million pages of family law cases need to be converted to an electronic format. That’s not counting the 42 million pages in the complex and general civil litigation and the juvenile courts. Jim McMillan, the director of the court technology laboratory for the National Center for State Courts, says that he hopes courts will allow multiple vendors to participate. Although a court needs only one case management program, that software should be able to accept filings from many different vendors. “We tell courts that they need to prepare to receive documents from all the systems out there,” McMillan says. Electronic filing also fits into WestGroup’s latest initiative. The company recently announced the creation of WestWorks — an application service provider that combines document management and time and billing. The company hopes to add electronic filing to WestWorks, which is scheduled to be available next year. McMillan enjoys watching these developments, after years of inertia. “It’s really interesting that the whole thing is rather aggressive now. It had been a gentlemanly sport. It’s started to get into a much more complicated situation,” McMillan says. SCT’s Rowley agrees: “Activity in the market has definitely been on the upswing.” For Slater, the Orange County clerk, having his court under national scrutiny is fairly nerve-racking. “I try not to think about it,” he admits. “We’re very fortunate to have judges that are tolerant of us as we move toward the future. At the end, it’s all about serving the public better.” The National Center for State Courts can be found on the Web at http://www.ncsc.dni.us/. Orange County Superior Court’s Web site is http://www.oc.ca.gov/superior.

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