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First Legal Network is a Gold Sponsor of the SVALA and, for their Spotlight feature, Jim Pinter asked if they could share information about eFiling in California. Absolutely!

Jim Pinter and Allie Steinmuller

Jim Pinter and Allie Steinmuller

We have such great sponsors who are experts in their field and we are happy to share their knowledge and tips of the trade!

Larry Kirlin, author of this article, holds dual positions as Regional Manager and eProducts Manager with First Legal Network. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the GLAALA Leadership Exchange magazine but Mr. Kirlin shortened the article for our purposes. Don’t worry! It is no less informative or useful.

In addition, Jim Pinter is our local Senior Account Executive and a welcome presence at our SVALA events. Jim can provide you with additional information about eFiling in California, including a current and concise summary of the need-to-know information for each California Superior Court that mandates eFiling, along with the First Legal Network price sheet. Please contact Jim at jpinter@firstlegalnetwork.com or 916-281-1292.

(Personal note: I have invited Jim to talk with the secretaries and paralegals at our firm about his services and everyone has been very pleased with the information provided. I promise there is never a hard sell!)

Many thanks to Larry and Jim for providing information to our members that we can immediately use in our firms.

Enough from me! Let’s get right to the information.

The California eFiling Landscape

Few people disagree that within the next three to five years, all 58 Superior Courts in California will offer or require eFiling.  That means we can expect a lot of change in the way law firms and legal support professionals interact with the courts.  The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the eFiling movement.  In the end you should have a better understanding of how eFiling works and where the state is heading.

I’ve always been one to embrace change and new technology so when I saw the movement in the courts towards eFiling I wanted to be at the forefront.  This led me to join newsgroups, committees and generally stick my nose in wherever I could learn about eFiling.  In 2014 I was given the second job title of “eProducts Manager” and have been on a long pursuit to understand the parts and people driving change in the industry.

As a product manager, I’m responsible for staying current on industry trends, knowing what our competitors are doing and acting as a reference point within our company.  The position also requires me to perform market research and make recommendations to our executive board regarding marketing, infrastructure and operations.  It has given me the exposure I need to speak competently on the topic of eFiling.

eFiling

So why are the courts pushing for eFiling now? As you know, the court budgets were drastically reduced during the economic downturn and were never restored.  The court administrators see eFiling as a solution to provide the best public access to the courts at the lowest cost.

When your goal is to get the best for the least you undoubtedly find yourself in a compromise.  While eFiling promises cost savings and convenience, it doesn’t mean fast, efficient or error free.  In most situations, eFilings are still reviewed by a court clerk before being accepted.  That means your filings will sit in a review queue on a computer; similar to being placed in a pile of incoming mail.  First in, first out.

This is a good time to explain the three basic building blocks of an eFiling system: CMS, EFM and EFSP.

CMS – Case Management System: The CMS is the backbone of the court and connects to both internal and external sources.  Think of it as the primary system that handles all of the case workflow specific to the court. Courts use one or a combination of CMS.

EFM – Electronic Filing Manager:  The connection between the CMS and the web – it handles all incoming filings, validates and processes according to court workflow.  Typically the supplier of the CMS also provides the EFM, but in some cases they can be two completely separate systems provided by separate companies.

EFSP – Electronic Filing Service Providers:  Third-party companies who provide an online solution to eFile directly to a specific court. EFSPs design and implement their own solution, specific to the workflow and local rules of the court, and are certified by the court.  No two EFSP solutions are the same from a User Experience (UX) perspective – as they are customized to the providers interface – however, they all meet the court’s requirements and local rules. Certification is critical – either the court or EFM control the certification process.

Many EFSP offer a “Concierge” service for filing documents on-behalf of a law firm.  Although they charge a premium for this service, the extra cost makes sense for the law firms because it is faster, easier and frees up time for the secretaries to perform higher level functions.  This is analogous to firms using a copy service to prepare deposition subpoenas for records.

eService

Hand-in-hand with eFiling is eService.  It can be performed by the law firm or through a vendor.  Following is a summary of the legal requirements:

Pursuant to CRC 2.251(a), you can eServe a document if you can serve it by mail, overnight or fax.  Anything that requires personal service is not permitted for eService. A party must consent to eService as outlined in the rules listed as follows.

Consent to eService happens when a party stipulates to eService (CRC 2.251(b)(1)(A) ) or when a party eFiles a document with the court (CRC 2.251(b)(1)(B) ).

A party must eServe if eFiling is mandated (CRC 2.251(c)(2)), unless personal service is required by statute, the court orders otherwise or the case involves a self-represented litigant (unless that litigants consents).

Per CRC 2.251(h)(1), service is complete at the time of transmission or at the time the notification is sent.  Any period of notice, response, etc. is extended by two court days.

A Proof of Electronic Service needs to be included with the documents you are eFiling and eServing. The Proof of Service can be attached to the supporting document or as a separate document and can be submitted in pleading format or on a Judicial Council form.  Refer to CRC 2.251(i) for specific proof format requirements.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

As I speak on the topic of eFiling I discovered that most people have pretty much the same questions.

Why doesn’t California adopt a system like the Federal Court (Pacer)?  Hmmm, how do I say this?  California is special.  Even though we have one set of laws for the state, the various counties and judges demand a certain level of autonomy within their jurisdictions.  Evidence of this autonomy can be seen in local rules, local forms, and unique procedures.  Having one system puts too many restraints on the individual court’s ability to exert local control.

Why do I have to pay for eFiling?  eFiling is a user-pay system.  The software building blocks of the eFiling system are beyond the budget of most courts.  In order for the courts to offer eFiling, they had to pass the system costs along to the end users.

Why would I use a vendor instead of filing directly through the court portal?  Each court filing system (EFM) requires a separate login, credit card, workflow, etc.  By using your own vendor, you don’t have to manage several accounts.  This is particularly important to law firm administrators because it is difficult for them to track eFiling expenses through a credit card statement.  The more users and accounts a firm has, the more difficult it will be to reconcile.  With First Legal, and other 3rd party vendors, the client will receive the same invoicing they already receive from that vendor.

What is the rejection rate for eFiling?  At the time of this writing, the trend in California is 15% of all eFiling transactions are rejected.  That is about twice national average and four times worse than the rejection rate for over-the-counter filings.  A significant percentage of rejected eFilings were caused by incorrect formatting or submission.  Both of these errors could be avoided by using a “concierge” service to file on your behalf.

Who does the follow-up on a document awaiting clerk approval?  Documents take anywhere from 1-3 days on average to be filed and returned by the court.  A recent survey showed that 80% of eFiled documents are accepted or rejected within 24 hours.  If your assignment was submitted through an EFSP, you can monitor the status of your document online and filed documents will be available on the portal.  If you use a concierge service, they will monitor status for you and return filed documents via e-mail.

I hope this article has given you a solid understanding of eFiling in California.

Larry Kirlin is a board member with Fresno County Legal Professionals Association.  He began working in the legal support industry in 1991 and has been employed with First Legal Network since 2012.  He currently holds dual positions as Regional Manager and eProducts Manager.  Larry lives in Fresno with his wife Rebecca and their six children.