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Business Partner Spotlight: First Legal Network
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Ah, summer in Southern California, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The days are longer and it’s great to be outdoors. It has been especially fun spending time with the Administrators of the OCALA at all the recent events locally and at the National Conference in Denver. The benefits of supporting your organization in terms of shared information and personal and professional relationships are immeasurable. Thank you all for the opportunity you have afforded us. While the first half of 2017 has been fantastic, we look forward to the second half being one for the history books!

One of the top questions I’ve been receiving from our clients is about eFiling in California. There’s been quite a bit of activity in this area and rightly so. The state of California has been aggressively rolling out their platform in the hopes that it is easy to use from an end-user standpoint, but also having it be a manageable intake tool for the courts use.

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. Orange County Superior Court got ahead of this curve by commissioning their own portal. However, the rest of the courts throughout the state have gone on different paths.

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. About 25 of California courts have opted for a system called “Odyssey”. Odyssey does require you to use a third party vendor or EFSP, which I explain in the next section. Consider Odyssey as the “court clerk” who makes sure your documents meet the requirements of the court and takes fees.

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. There are many ESFP’s to choose from. First Legal is proud to offer our portal located on our web site which has two options. (1) use our portal directly to eFile with the court, or (2) have one of our many eFiling specialist eFile your document on your behalf.

As an EFSP for Odyssey and other state court systems, we offer a “Concierge” service for filing documents on behalf of a law firm. Although there is an additional charge for this service, the extra cost makes sense for 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. Also, if the court venue allows documents to be filed up until midnight, it might not be cost effective to have your attorney, paralegal or secretary at their billing rates performing this task. Our eFiling division is open until midnight every business night to assist.

There is so much more to learn about eService, best practices, timelines for future rollouts, etc. I’m currently working on an update on the various eFiling venues for California. Feel free to contact me if you’d like an update at your firm. It is an evolving process and there’s always new things to learn.

I’ll leave you with a few frequently asked questions that I feel helps explain. As I speak on the topic of eFiling, I discovered that most people have pretty much the same questions. We’re in this together so let me share.

FAQ

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 the 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 Efile on your behalf.

Who does the follow-up on a document awaiting clerk approval?   Documents take anywhere from one to three days on average to be filed and returned by the court. A recent survey showed that 87% 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 the status for you and return filed documents via e-mail.

Hope this helps. Have a great summer everyone!


Don Hoefnagel, Executive Vice President
First Legal
dh@firstlegalsupport.com
www.firstlegalnetwork.com


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