Electronic filing has made the lives of many of us so much easier. If a court has electronic filing we never need leave the comfort of our offices to get something filed. No more waiting for file-stamped copies to be returned by a runner or court personnel. The only mailings of pleadings we must do are to our clients and opposing counsel. While a great convenience, many electronic filing programs do not have any mechanism for catching errors and notifying the preparer of those errors before submission. A few electronic filing programs will not allow the user to submit filings that are missing particular required information. These are quite helpful but no electronic filing program is a replacement for careful proofreading of documents before submission. Electronically filed documents are also available electronically and can be accessed more easily than paper filings. This has raised concerns regarding privacy since previously the public usually had to send someone in person to request hard copies of documents. If courts decide to allow access to documents on the web, some worry about private information such as social security numbers being available. The remedy to that problem apparently will be data tagging to electronically redact such information. Until data tagging is in place you should discuss whether it is appropriate to include such information in any public pleading. Many courts are allowing filings until 11:59 p.m. on the day of the deadline. Although this can be quite helpful, especially when filing a document with a court that is out of town, many paralegals worry that it will give clients and attorneys permission to procrastinate even more than usual. This makes it even more important to docket adequate reminders well in advance of the deadlines. And if you can get away with forgetting to tell your attorney that he can late-file documents, so much the better! Less ethical attorneys may file documents before they have been reviewed by their clients and less ethical paralegals may file documents without adequate attorney review. Most courts are issuing a distinct user name and password which serves as an electronic signature for those submitting documents. This may eventually evolve into a true digital signature. Until then paralegals should work with their attorneys to develop procedures for and verification of the following:
If you and your attorneys set up procedures for review and verification and make sure the procedures are always followed, you will not have to worry about potential questions by clients, attorneys, opposing counsel, or the court.
Ellen Lockwood, CLAS, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Legal Assistants Division, a position she has held since 1997. She is Treasurer of LAD and a past president of the Alamo Area Professional Legal Assistants in San Antonio.