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Waiting for the mail carrier to deliver notices, orders and other court documents will soon be just a memory for lawyers practicing in federal court in the District of New Jersey. Federal courts there will begin sending such documents by fax instead of U.S. mail to parties consenting to such service beginning Jan. 1. The change to faxed orders is a preliminary step in implementation of electronic case filing. The court will issue another announcement in a few weeks detailing the schedule for the e-filing startup, says Chief Deputy Clerk James Murphy. For now, the notice asks lawyers to submit letters consenting to electronic service and listing their fax numbers and e-mail addresses. E-mail delivery of such notices is coming at a later date, but the court decided to solicit one round of letters instead of two, says Murphy. Lawyers who do not submit such letters will continue to receive notices by mail, as before, he says. Besides speeding up delivery of notices, the change will save money. The district spends $50,000 a year on postage for such mailings, Murphy says. Docket clerks will save time by eliminating most photocopying duties in favor of transmitting faxes directly from photocopy centers that were installed on their desktop computers 18 months ago, he says. The technology has been tested, and employees have been trained in the new procedures, he adds. Many other federal judicial districts have begun phasing in electronic filing, but each district is moving at its own pace, says Murphy. In courts that allow electronic filing, attorneys may file documents over the Internet, bring a computer diskette to the clerk’s office for entry into the system or, in some cases, bring a paper document to the clerk’s office to be scanned. Law firms that file over the Internet need software capable of converting documents to the PDF format and, in some cases, a scanner. In cases filed electronically, lawyers are required to serve a “notice of electronic filing” on parties entitled to service by e-mail, hand, fax or first-class mail. Electronic service of the notice of electronic filing will constitute service of the filed document. Under a policy set at the national level, no criminal cases will be part of the system for at least two years, largely because of privacy concerns. On Dec. 2, the Southern District of New York announced a plan to phase in electronic filing among its magistrate judges and 11 district court judges. All 48 judges in the Southern District are slated to be using electronic filing by the end of 2003.

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