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The U.S. District Court of New Jersey is revving up for electronic filing, which will speed and cheapen the flow of documents without costing practitioners much for computer upgrades. The system enters its startup phase on Oct. 31, when the clerks’ offices in Newark, Camden and Trenton begin converting newly filed documents to computer pages and creating electronic docket sheets. The big leap is planned for January. Practitioners admitted to practice in the district will be able to obtain a password and send their pleadings by e-mail, avoiding the cost of creating paper documents and delivering them. Lawyers on the service list who are registered with any federal court’s system will receive the documents seconds after they are filed. Lawyers and the public can review documents on file over the Internet on their home or office computers for 7 cents a page. “Our ultimate goal is to become a paperless court to the fullest extent possible,” the district’s chief judge, John Bissell, told the State Bar Association convention on May 16. He said New Jersey was fortunate because the district would benefit from the knowledge of other federal jurisdictions that have implemented e-filing, including the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey, which went online last year. For bankruptcy practitioners, the district court system will be business as usual. In the district court, the goal right now is to dispel the fears of lawyers who hate procedural change and whose eyes glaze over when someone utters the word “computer.” Chief Deputy Clerk James Murphy says the court has begun an awareness campaign with talks like Bissell’s to Bar groups. Facts and how-to information have been posted on the court’s Web site at pacer.njd.uscourts.gov. HARDWARE/SOFTWARE REQUIRED What should lawyers know? First, e-filing will not be mandatory because not everyone has access to computers, particularly the largest class of federal pro se litigants: prisoners seeking writs of habeas corpus. So when e-filing becomes the norm, lawyers stuck in the 20th century still will be able to put pleadings on paper, carry them to the courthouse and have them stamped, and wait for service to other parties. Second, as they can now, people who want to read a file can go to the clerk’s office. Under the new system, however, the documents will be viewed in electronic form on a computer screen in the clerk’s office and readers who want copies can print them. Third, lawyers are being urged to take advantage of e-filing. Big firms already have the right computers and software, and even a solo practitioner with rudimentary equipment will be able to get into the game inexpensively. Filing e-documents will require a personal computer, preferably with 64 megabytes of random access memory and at least 115 megabytes of available hard-disk space. Most lawyers already have the word processing they need, Macintosh or Windows-based versions of WordPerfect or Word. And they also are likely to have Internet service with Netscape Navigator 4.6 or 4.7 or Internet Explorer 5.5. Netscape 6 is not recommended. The system requires software to convert word processing to portable document format (PDF), preferably Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer. The full version of that program sells for about $250 in office-supply stores. Lawyers also should have scanners to create electronic images of exhibits and other documents not in their word processing system. The starting price for a rudimentary scanner for home use is about $150 at office-supply stores, but lawyers might want to get something fancier. INHERENT COST SAVINGS Andrew Sherman, a partner at Newark, N.J.’s Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross, has been using the bankruptcy court’s e-filing system and he says it’s easy. “It’s a wonderful process,” he says. “Anyone who can operate Windows can do it.” He also says lawyers will recoup the cost of upgrades quickly in savings inherent in the system. There is no need for messengers to the courthouse, copying or mailings to courts, co-counsel, adversaries or litigants. Sherman points out that the 7-cents-a-page viewing cost is a one-time expense. As soon as he downloads a document, he stores it on his own computer for free retrieval any time. Even better, there is a $2.10 limit on the cost of any document. In other words, after the first 30 pages, the rest of the document can be viewed free. Then there is the saving on paper. Now it comes to the three courthouses in a daily torrent that has never been measured, though Murphy has a guess. He estimates that each of the 5,700 to 6,000 cases docketed annually generates 30 to 45 documents. No one has counted the average number of pages in a document, but it must be a staggering total. Speaking of paper, allowing lawyers and litigants to continue the old methods if they choose does not mean the court will accumulate more paper. The court is considering a plan to discard all paper pleadings five days after they are scanned, Murphy says. “It’s superfluous,” he says of having paper and electronic versions. “It’s like belt and suspenders.” CONFIDENCE BUILDING Courts in Ohio, Nebraska, the Eastern District of New York and the Middle District of Pennsylvania already have gone online, and officials in the Pennsylvania courts are helping with the startup in New Jersey. The awareness campaign is designed to assure lawyers they will not be intimidated by the system. “You have to build people’s confidence,” Murphy says. The Web site includes a tutorial that walks lawyers through every phase of the process, such as filing and answering complaints and motions, adding attachments and viewing docket sheets. Lawyers who want hands-on training will be able to go to the courthouse, and trainers will also be willing to go on location, perhaps to some of the larger firms. Murphy says, though, that the court has decided not to offer training far in advance of the startup date. That appears to be a recognition of the inability of just about everyone to focus on new procedures until they absolutely must.

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