If you are involved in a lawsuit, you (or your attorney) will likely need to file many documents with the court. This can include an initial summons and complaint as well as various motions and notices requesting actions from the court or opposing party. All these filed documents can add up to piles and piles of paper. Furthermore, whenever a paper is filed with a court, this requires the filer to go down to the courthouse in person to present the document to the clerk of court. Although this is a tradition that is mostly accepted as a part of the legal system, there are also those who feel there is a more efficient way to handling court filings. Thus, e-filing has been hailed by many as a necessary upgrade to the traditional methods of filing paper documents with courts.
E-filing, which is short for electronic filing, is exactly what its name implies. It is a system whereby documents are filed electronically, as opposed to in person, with paper. E-filing can occur in many venues, including taxes, however, in the context of a court, e-filing generally references filing legal documents electronically, or online. For e-filing to exist, a court has to implement it as a part of their case management system. If a court does not specifically provide for e-filing, then you must file documents using the traditional method of paper and in-person. A court can either choose to create their own case management/e-filing system, or they may choose to hire a technology company that provides this service. There are many different forms, including open-source, software, and internet based systems.
The method of electronically filing documents will vary by court and the type of system available. However, the general process includes converting the document you wish to be filed into a format specified by the court (such as PDF) and then sending the document through an email, or some other internet based system. Many e-filing systems also are set-up to allow payment of court fees and fines. Furthermore, using an e-filing system can also allow for filing even after the courthouse is closed. In a lawsuit, there are often deadlines for which certain documents must be filed with the court. This can lead to a mad dash to the courthouse before closing time to ensure that deadlines are met. However, in many situations, if a court has an e-filing system, instead of a 5pm deadline, a filer may have up until 11:59 PM to file their document online with the court.
In addition to creating efficiency and limiting the pile-up of paper, e-filing also allows for easier access to court records. If a court has an electronic system, then there is likely also online access to court records. Depending on the system, court record searches can be performed using party names, dates, and more. Thus, even those not directly participating in a lawsuit can benefit from an electronic court filing system.
While e-filing is not an option in every court, over the past decade, many courts have decided to upgrade their systems to include e-filing. While the option to use an e-filing system is often court specific, some states actually have a statewide system where all courts are a part of e-filing. Statewide e-filing exists in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. Keep in mind, that even if your state does not have a statewide system, certain courts may still have e-filing. Check with the court records database found at www.CourtReference.com to find out which courts have e-filing, online fine payment, and/or searchable online court records databases.