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Lawyers, paralegals and other support staff are preparing for mandatory e-filing in federal court by Oct. 1, says John C. Stuckenbruck, division manager for the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass. A live demonstration set for June 24 already has subscribers for the 75 available seats. But Stuckenbruck noted it’s even more important to receive hands-on training. That’s being offered in nine-person teaching sessions, which are scheduled to meet demand. Stuckenbruck and his staff also have gone to law firms to teach the new techniques. But much of what people need to know and do can be accomplished online, he said. To begin with, a lawyer needs a high-quality personal computer, an Internet connection, and the document reader program for PDF files, available as a free download from Adobe.com (see below). To prepare for electronic filing, Stuckenbruck said the natural first step is to create a PACER account. The PACER acronym stands for public access to court electronic records. With a credit card, a person can instantly set up an account to view the extensive database of federal court docket information and documents. Next, any lawyers authorized to practice in Massachusetts federal courts can register on the federal Web site to get a login name and password to access the “CM/ECF” system. That stands for case management and electronic court filing. The Web page also has a wealth of instructions about electronic filing, including a streaming video in which lawyers explain the process and its advantages. It also has the latest standing orders about e-filing issued by Massachusetts district court judges. (Some Boston-based judges are currently requiring e-filing in some or all of their cases.) When a lawyer registers for e-filing cases, it is also possible to register other co-workers who are to be notified by e-mail about case developments. This makes it possible for a paralegal, administrator or another lawyer to receive official notices about pleadings and court orders. MINIMAL PURCHASES A limited amount of new software and hardware may be needed, Stuckenbruck said. Lawyers will need the software to convert word processing documents, such as those created in Word or WordPerfect, into PDF (portable document format) files. This requires PDF-writing software, available from Adobe ( Adobe Acrobat)and others at a wide range of costs. To create PDF files from paper documents for exhibits, lawyers will also need to have a scanner. Pleadings and motions are filed by converting the word-processing document to PDF format, then logging on to the court Web site and uploading the document to the specific case. Within 10 to 15 seconds of e-filing, all other lawyers with appearances in the case receive an e-mail notifying them of the filing. They can then access the new document through their PACER accounts, and view the document once at no charge. Actually, the system allows two “free looks,” said Stuckenbruck, so not only the lawyer, but also another registered person at the firm, can view the document without charge. During a “free look,” the document can be saved to an electronic file in the law office. Thereafter, the PACER system charges its standard seven cents per page to view the documents in a file. Although Connecticut federal courts ask lawyers for a PDF version of their paper filings on a floppy disk, lawyers in Massachusetts who now file paper pleadings do not need to include a PDF floppy disk version, Stuckenbruck said. When documents are received in paper format now, they’re scanned into PDF files by court personnel, and appear on the PACER system as full documents that can be opened, read and printed. Although the PACER system has been operating for over a decade, the ability to access entire documents is a recent development. Eventually, as more and more documents become retrievable online, lawyers will have the contents of the courthouse accessible by computer at any time. RAVE REVIEWS Lawyers who’ve used the system say the savings in staff time, messengers, postage and copying quickly offset the minimal upfront costs of PDF software and a scanner. A pleading can be filed from anywhere the lawyer has access to the Internet, at any time, seven days a week. Craig Goldblatt, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, endorsed e-filing on the courts’ streaming video. He said the new system makes it possible to leave the office earlier, play with his daughter before her bedtime, and officially file a brief afterward from home. Other lawyers praised the time they’ve saved in trips to the courthouse. Stuckenbruck said he may schedule additional screen demonstrations of the process this summer, depending on the interest expressed. For up-to-date details about training, Stuckenbruck can be reached at (413)785-0216.

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