Starting New Year’s Day, many attorneys who practice in the state’s 10 biggest counties must change one of the most basic things about lawyering.
Forget about running to the courthouse to file a document by deadline in a big case. Instead, as the Texas Supreme Court’s e-filing mandate goes in effect, all filing must happen at the click of a button, sending the document through EFileTexas.gov, the state’s new electronic-filing system. It was formerly called TexFile.
The 10 counties following the Jan. 1, 2014, effective date include Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, Denton, El Paso, Hidalgo and Fort Bend. The mandate is effective in other counties on a rolling schedule based on population.
Texas Lawyer emailed questions to the district clerks in the first 10 counties about what lawyers need to know and how the clerks are addressing their own concerns. Here are their answers, edited for style and length. El Paso County District Clerk Norma Favela didn’t respond before deadline.
Texas Lawyer: What’s an important thing that attorneys need to understand about how your office’s operations are changing because of mandatory e-filing?
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel: Lawyers need to read and follow the state Supreme Court mandate on e-filing. And they should read the recently issued rules about e-filing issued by the Supreme Court. Basically, they need to know paper filings are out, e-filings are in. …
Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons: We have been utilizing some type of e-filing for several years. The only thing that is changing is the manner in which attorneys will be submitting documents to the clerk’s office for filing. Our business processes are not changing very much. Aside from efficiencies gained with the new system, attorneys should realize zero to very minimal changes in operations. The new system provides greater efficiency for the clerk. There should be a significant drop in the amount of time it takes for filers to view cases online once their filing has been accepted.
Bexar County District Clerk Donna Kay McKinney: The workload is shifting from in-person assistance to computerized, downloaded document that will cause a delay in receiving notification that your filing was completed and your service is being prepared. Citations and other process will take longer to prepare.
Travis County District Clerk Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza: Travis County was one of the first counties to institute mandatory e-filing in most civil cases (excluding family law cases and a few civil) in 2010. A majority of attorneys already electronically file their documents with our office. The family law attorneys will begin mandatory e-filing beginning January 1, 2014.
Collin County District Clerk Andrea Thompson: I think attorneys will be excited once they realize what a time and expense savings mandatory e-filing will create for their office. Being able to file 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, will create flexibility in their practices, while saving the time and expense of trips to the courthouse. We are excited that records will be electronically available to the courts and litigants more quickly than when we had to scan all documents filed. We are also excited about the reduction in wait times for service of documents because we are now able to electronically transmit citations to constables, sheriff’s and process servers[.] …
Denton County District Clerk Sherri Adelstein: My office is using this opportunity to go as paperless as possible. Physical case files will no longer be available, therefore, the legal community, judges and our other customers will be making the transition to electronic case files and dockets. The courts will continue to sign orders in paper form for a while, but once entered and scanned in the case management system, the documents will only be available electronically.
Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa: Attorneys need to understand e-filed documents must be completely accurate in order to avoid any rejections or “return for corrections.” Any incorrect or missing key information on the e-filed document—for example, an incorrect cause number, case type, filing code, or location—hinders our internal operations and causes a delay in processing the document. …
Fort Bend County District Clerk Annie Rebecca Elliott: Most importantly, the attorneys need to familiarize themselves with the Supreme Court Rules, the Fort Bend County District Clerk’s Office eFiling Business Process-Frequently Asked Questions and filing codes, as well as the Technology Standards set by the Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT). Although the e-filing system is the same, each county has configured the system to integrate with their case management system.
Texas Lawyer: For you, what’s the most significant issue or concern with switching over to mandatory e-filing? How are you addressing this issue or concern?
Daniel: … [P]rogramming our system so that it can receive e-files, recognize the documents according to type of pleading and file them in the right courts. The district clerk’s office (DCO) began switching to the state’s new system last month. As with any rollout, programmers did not know what would need tweaking until the rollout began. … [T]he district clerk’s office controls only one end of the electronic pipeline. Tyler Technologies, the contractor hired by the state to create the new, statewide e-filing system through which all filings must go, controls the other. … I am concerned that Tyler has not fulfilled at least a half-dozen must-have requests submitted by my programmers in the fall. The district clerk’s office remains worried that Tyler or the electronic file service providers (EFSPs) that submit documents for lawyers to Tyler will not develop the programming that allows files, in all instances, to be accurately e-categorized when they arrive at the DCO. … In addition, the DCO remains concerned that some lawyers and their staffs may be confused about where to file because Tyler is changing the name and web address of its system. After calling it TexFile for months, Tyler is changing the system’s name to eFileTexas.gov[.] …
Fitzsimmons: Biggest concern is the learning curve for the public[.] … As we gather data from questions received, we will be updating our web pages with frequently asked questions, definitions and helpful tips for the filing community.
Tarrant County District Clerk Thomas Wilder: … [T]here are significant internal changes centered in accounting due to [a] poor accounting module from TexFile and Chase Bank. Also, [it's] an unfunded mandate on [the] local taxpayer, plus [a] redirection of [a] revenue stream to Austin.
McKinney: Because Bexar County does not have Case Manage Software, we are unable, at this time, to forward orders that require a judge’s signature to a judge electronically. Thus, the orders must be presented to the court in person or by mail. We are continuing to progress with the installation of case management software with all due haste. As each step toward that goal is achieved, we are then better able to handle e-filing as it was intended to be utilized.
Thompson: We are very concerned about ensuring the quality of the images now stored in our case management system. Previously, with paper files, if the scanned image was incomplete, or deficient in some way, there was always a paper copy in a file to fall back on. This will not be the case when all case records are electronically maintained. To address this, our office has implemented a Quality Control team and process wherein all records are triple checked for accuracy of entry to attempt to eliminate any deficiencies in the electronic case files.
Adelstein: The first issue is the different business processes implemented by each clerk’s office. My office has posted our business processes—standard rejection reasons, notices of hearings, proposed orders, issuance requests—on our website. … My best advice before e-filing in a new jurisdiction? Check the clerk’s website and/or call the clerk’s office first. The second issue is the stability of the communication between the e-filing service providers, e-filing system and the case management system. If, and when, there is a problem, identifying the source is the first obstacle and in the meantime, a filer’s submission could be delayed. We have the capability to manually accept documents through the e-filing system plus we will need to allow paper filings in certain time-sensitive situations[.] …
Hinojosa: … I have been concerned about some of our legal community’s passiveness in preparing for the e-filing mandate. Although many were extremely proactive, there were a number of attorneys who, up until recently, had no idea this was going on. Nonetheless, our office in collaboration with the county at large and our local bar association have been extremely diligent in conducting outreach by way of e-filing fairs, weekly webinars, and e-filing Q&A sessions, which proved to be very productive. We have also collectively helped to disseminate information regarding the mandate through our county website, social media, email, mail-outs and local media coverage.
Elliott: The attorney’s reluctance to change is our most significant concern.We are assisting attorneys by walking them through the entire e-filing process by utilizing in-house training, via the telephone or by visiting their office. We are helping them register with an electronic filing service provider (EFSP) of their choice and familiarizing them with the business processes of our office including the actual filing of documents. Another concern is that due to the time constraints of the impending deadline, we have unresolved issues that are being reviewed by an “Enhancement Committee” created by the Office of Court Administration (OCA). …