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Forget the courier service. Stop photocopying those motions. Just get online. That’s what lawyers in Washington, D.C., have to d A recent Superior Court order requires all attorneys working on Civil One Division cases to file their briefs and motions electronically. There are about 600 cases in the Superior Court’s Civil One Division, which includes complex civil litigation such as tobacco and asbestos cases. The requirement is part of a pilot program that will run for a year. If it goes well, electronic filing will spread to other civil matters, as well as to tax and probate, according to Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. The old way to file is familiar: Write the motion, make some photocopies, call a courier, shell out cash for the services. The new way: Write the motion, sign in online to an account, upload the file, hit a button, shell out some cash — probably less cash — for this one service. (There is also a free Web terminal and a scanner in the courthouse for people who do not otherwise have access to them.) Lawyers can’t truck their papers down to the courthouse even if they want to. “The parties under this pilot may not file any paper as part of the normal process,” says Dixon, who oversees the court’s electronic-filing project. There are a few exceptions. Initial complaints, for example, as well as friend of the court briefs and motions under seal must be filed on paper. Otherwise, lawyers are left to their own devices — their computers. Dixon believes that e-filing will help lawyers and judges. D.C. Superior Court has one of the highest per capita caseloads in the country, which generates a large backlog and tons of paper. (Paper files are kept at the courthouse and in storage centers in the suburbs.) Dixon is a Superior Court veteran — he has been on the bench there for more than 15 years. But he’s no laggard: He first heard about e-filing about six years ago at a judicial conference, when it was in its baby stages. Then, two years ago, JusticeLink, an e-filing service, approached him about trying it out in his court. (JusticeLink is now owned by CourtLink Corp., the Bellevue, Wash.-based company which set up the Superior Court system). He was interested. He lobbied the other judges, talked it up with lawyers and, like all good bureaucrats, set up a committee — the Subcommittee for Electronic Filing — to oversee the process. CourtLink came to D.C. to train the judges and the bar. Electronic filing is picking up across the country. It may not be a big fad these days, but it is not merely a gearhead’s pipe dream, either. CourtLink says that it offers electronic filing at 86 courts around the country. Other companies, such as West Group, are piloting e-filing projects, too. In March, CourtLink set up e-filing in 63 district courts in Colorado, where it is an optional service. About 7 percent of matters are filed electronically in Colorado, says Henry Givray, CourtLink’s chief executive. “Our hope is that, over time, it will be like using the telephone,” Givray says. Electronic filing is faster than the system it replaces. Once a motion gets filed, all the relevant parties in the case, including the judge, are served and notified. An attorney can keep up to date with all the motions on a case by logging onto an account on the Web. The account is free; it just costs to file. This is especially helpful for cases with multiple parties like, say, giant asbestos litigation. And a judge can see the range of motions in her entire docket. CourtLink says e-filing saves money. CourtLink charges 10 cents a page, with a $2 minimum. (There is no software to install, and CourtLink did not charge the Superior Court to set up the filing system). Givray thinks this can save attorneys anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent of the money they would otherwise spend on filing. That’s a big spread because outlays depend on whether lawyers use couriers and on the money they spend on photocopying. Not everyone is so sure. Robin Silver, a partner at Baltimore’s 14-lawyer Church & Houff, says it’s likely that costs will come out about even. Still, she’s confident that electronic filing saves time and that it will be easier to organize multiparty cases. Her firm has many of those: It handles about 300 cases on the Civil One docket. Many are multiparty asbestos matters. She filed her first two motions electronically on May 2, the day after e-filing took effect. Michael Hicks, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s 50-lawyer Gilberg & Kiernan, e-filed about 10 days ago. It was a routine matter, but he was nervous about making a mistake. So he called his secretary. About five people, lawyers and staff, gathered around to watch what happened, says Hicks. He says he can now file on his own. The first time was a novelty — but if the Superior Court project goes well, it won’t stay that way for long. WHERE NEXT? Courtlink has set up 63 courts in Colorado with e-filing systems. Now it’s going to pilot one in Washington, D.C. Find out what court will be next at www.courtlink.com.

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