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The e-filing market has been quiet for the past several years, as industry shakeouts among vendors, and the economic turndown, have combined to slow the widespread number of project developments that characterized the late 1990s. That may be about to change, however, with a blockbuster announcement of a joint project between BearingPoint Inc. and Microsoft Corp. BearingPoint is the former KPMG Consulting Inc., which has been quite active over past years, particularly in Texas, helping state and local municipalities with a variety of e-gov systems, including e-filing. Microsoft is, well, Microsoft. Although it has not been active in the e-filing community, it obviously brings both prestige and financial stability to any undertaking. The new eFiling for Courts Powered by BearingPoint and Microsoft (how’s that for a mouthful?) will be a managed service from BearingPoint. Attorneys will register with the service and pay fees for filing cases round-the-clock. Filers can track the status of their filed document, monitor delivery, see if it’s being reviewed or accepted by the court. (Think UPS/FedEx.) The foundation of the technology is the Microsoft .NET platform, including Windows Server 2000, BizTalk Server, SQL Server database, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, and Visual Studio .NET. The underlying proposition: As a managed service, eFiling for Courts will let local courts participate, without incurring the cost of acquiring, building and operating e-filing systems themselves. There are also plans to offer a revenue sharing option. The two companies have been working on the project since January 2002, when they signed a development agreement with the TexasOnline Authority, the governing body that runs the state’s portal. Pilot projects in Fort Bend and Bexar counties launched in November. The current plan is to expand to another four counties in Texas this summer — then both companies will market and sell the service nationwide. Perhaps most intriguing about the announcement is the portion that details a “teaming agreement” between BearingPoint and Lexis Nexis. The latter, through its CourtLink subsidiary, currently offers a Web-based e-filing system for law firms, which apparently will now integrate with eFiling for Courts. Both BearingPoint and Lexis Nexis have been active in the ad hoc Legal XML Group that has spent years developing XML standards for e-filing. Indeed, the press release states the eFiling for Courts is an “open source” product that uses “the LegalXML standard schema and Web services standards like Simple Object Access Protocol.” CRITICS Don’t be surprised if some other Legal XML participants remain skeptical. Off the record, they will point out that the Legal XML Group has not actually published schema, but rather, through its “Court Filing Technical Committee,” a set of four Document Type Definitions (DTDs). Because the Legal XML Group is a volunteer organization, there is no formal method for them to certify whether a given company is using or in compliance with those DTDs. Indeed, open source projects have been in the market for some time, although not from as powerful a set of players as Microsoft and BearingPoint. Eugene, Ore.’s CounterClaim.com Inc., a small but technically proficient player in the market, has made its open source Electronic Filing Manager, OpenEFM, available for more than a year. A platform-independent system, it works directly with a court’s case management system without costly integration, long down times or extensive training. This allows the court to directly accept and manage filings, collect fees associated with filings and even manage e-filers, including other electronic filing service providers. (See www.counterclaim.com.) An even older project was the Georgia’s Electronic Court Filing Interoperability Pilot Project ( http://e-ct-file.gsu.edu/CourtFilings/Interoperability/), which was completed in December 2001 and then grew into two live electronic court filing projects, one for child support and one for juvenile matters. Both projects use Legal XML Court Filing 1.0 DTD and a number of interoperable components from E-Filing.com. The juvenile system began live filings in June 2002. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department has electronically filed and initiated about 200 cases in the Douglas County Juvenile Court. They plan to expand the system into other Georgia Counties. MONEY And as always, money is an issue. The debate will continue as to how the vendors can make money, (and the courts at least not lose any money) on e-filing. More than a few companies that have tried to survive on income from filing fees have floundered, including Courtlink before it was acquired by Lexis Nexis. But BearingPoint and Microsoft are not going to go out of business. Will courts investigate viable open source options as a means of income generation, something that is increasingly attractive in today’s economic environment? Some suggest that the best way to push e-filing to reality is to start charging for filing paper, as banks are doing with checks, and airlines with tickets. Courts may eventually have to do this to discourage paper filings and pay for electronic filing systems. Tom O’Connor is a Seattle-based consultant and a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board. He previously worked at CourtLink, prior to its purchase by Lexis Nexis. E-mail: [email protected].

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