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Ready or not, New Jersey lawyers with federal court cases will have to start learning to file papers electronically. Starting Nov. 1, a change in local rules of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requires that all briefs be filed in electronic form as well as on paper. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey will soon follow suit. By Jan. 31, the court will make mandatory participation in its heretofore voluntary e-filing system, known as CM/ECF. Lawyers will have to register with the court’s Web site and be trained on using the system. The switch to mandatory e-filing in the district court comes in the wake of successful phasing-in of the voluntary program, which saw electronic filings rise from 3 percent in January when the program began to 13 percent in August. The 3rd Circuit system requires no registration or training. Lawyers can simply e-mail their filings to the court clerk in the proper format. Amended L.A.R. 31.0 rule requires counsel for any party or amicus curiae who file paper briefs also to file by e-mail “or such other method as the court specifies” for any case in which the briefing schedule is issued on Nov. 1 or later. Pro se filers are exempt. The briefs must be filed as Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) files, which means lawyers will need to purchase software to convert their word-processed briefs. The .PDF format is deemed preferable because it keeps pages and their components, including graphics, intact. As with the district court system, the electronic filing of a 3rd Circuit brief will be the official court record, with paper versions treated as courtesy copies. Deputy Clerk James Murphy Jr. says the district court’s Lawyers Advisory Committee last Thursday authorized the move to mandatory e-filing and that the court will adopt a standing order to be published next month. Unlike the 3rd Circuit’s order, pro se filers will not be exempt. The new order will also end the current practice of treating documents on floppy disks or CD-ROMs as e-filed. In addition to publishing the order as a notice to the bar, the district court will send mail to federal practitioners not currently registered with CM/ECF, alerting them to the new rule and providing information on e-filing training, available in the courthouse and on its Web site, http://pacer.njd.uscourts.gov/. The e-filing initiatives are at the district and appellate levels of the technology spectrum. CM/ECF (Case Management and Electronic Case Files) is a browser-based input, search and retrieval system that runs on the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts’ PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) network. It is designed to be a total case management and docketing system, providing 24-hour access to court files and serving as the method of communicating court rulings. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts began developing PACER in 1996 and the system is in various stages of use. It allows lawyers to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts, and from the U.S. party/case index. They file and serve papers, view, download and print any e-filed documents and do research. Murphy says his office transfers its e-filings to PACER, which makes them available to registered PACER users. “So it’s natural for our filers to want to register with PACER, too,” he says. Murphy notes that 3,700 of the approximately 9,000 lawyers who file in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., have registered for the voluntary program. Murphy says the CM/ECF program has been saving resources and money at the court. “As we monitor the budget we can see some expenses have dropped off and we attribute that to implementation of the e-filing — reductions in postage and copying costs and the ability to move resources,” he says. His office ceased using paper files in cases filed since the voluntary e-filing program began. The 3rd Circuit is using its e-filing mandate as a first step toward making its files available on PACER, though there is no timetable for further implementation, says Bradford Baldus, senior legal advisor to 3rd Circuit Clerk Marcia Waldron.

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