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Legal Notes Blog > September 2014

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By: Attorney Adam Finkel

 

            For the past few years, there has been a strong push by a number of judges in Wisconsin to move from a paper filing system to an electronic filing system, or more commonly, “e-filing.”  Most recently, a committee of chief judges voted unanimously to propose a plan that would mandate e-filing state-wide.[1]  E-filing would become mandatory beginning in 2016, and would be rolled out to all counties by 2018.[2]  While the mandate is not yet proposed, given the strong momentum in the past year and the support of the chief judges, it seems imminent.
 

            Federal courts have not only allowed, but in some cases mandated, electronic filings for many years.  The federal government established www.pacer.gov (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) and made the website available to the public starting in 2001.[3]  State courts soon followed, and in 2008 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ordered that effective July 1, 2008, electronic filing shall be allowed in Wisconsin circuit courts and governed by Wis. Stat. § 801.17.[4]  At the same time, the Court also authorized the use of electronic signatures on electronic court filings.[5]  Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, only 26 of the counties are currently set up for electronic filing, but that number continues to grow each year.[6]  The electronic filing system is currently set up to handle civil, family, and small claims matters, but not available for garnishment actions, temporary restraining orders, or injunctions.[7]  It is becoming clear that the future of civil practice in Wisconsin will involve electronic filing throughout the state.  Kohn Law Firm has been following the progress of the e-filing movement and proactively assessing the potential pros and cons for collection firms that practice in Wisconsin. 

            The electronic filing system has many advantages.  First, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
[8]  Unlike filing documents in person at the courthouse, e-filing allows parties to upload and file documents after hours and on weekends, although they will not receive confirmation from the clerk that the document is technically “filed” until the clerk is available to approve the filing.[9]  Once the document is approved by the clerk, the document is considered “filed” at the time the original submission to the electronic filing system was completed.  A significant benefit to electronic filing is the ability to file something last minute and avoid rushing to the courthouse.[10]  This could potentially save hours of time, and in some cases, save the loss of fees for having to re-file if documents are not filed timely with the court.  Additionally, firms will no longer have to pay postage because documents can simply be uploaded electronically.  For large firms with thousands of lawsuits, the costs quickly add up.  Although there is a charge for electronic filing of $5.00, together with a convenience fee, based on volume alone costs will be significantly reduced.[11]  Finally, electronic filing is safe and secure.  Each attorney or user must log in to his or her own password-protected account in order to upload or view documents, and users are only able to upload or view documents in cases that the user is involved in.[12]  Anyone, including the general public, has access to the electronic filing website.  In fact, when new cases are filed, notice will go to the other party advising them that a case has been filed electronically and inviting them to participate electronically as well.  If both sides to a case participate electronically, parties are notified immediately through electronic notification if something is filed by the other party.  Again, this saves time, money, and confusion, and eliminates the issues of lost mailings, wrong addresses, delay in delivery, and other problems associated with exchanging filings in paper form.

While there are many benefits to an e-filing system, there are a number of downsides as well, specifically for the collection industry.  The e-filing system proposal will require attorneys to e-file, but will not require self-represented litigants to participate.[13]  A substantial number of collection matters involve self-represented litigants.  This may cause confusion between the rules of e-filing and the traditional rules of civil procedure, especially if collection firms alter their systems to accommodate the e-filing rules.  Another concern is initial cost.  It is nearly impossible to predict the initial cost, not only financially, but also in terms of man hours.  Policies and procedures will have to be altered to progressively change the way in which collections firms in Wisconsin do business.  Finally, while filing numerous lawsuits electronically may save money, the question of how to allocate the one-time costs of e-filing across numerous clients and accounts poses a number of new concerns that previously did not exist.  These are just some of the many problems that this industry faces in regard to the e-filing proposal.

             With this e-filing proposal on the horizon, firms need to review their policies and procedures and discuss these pros and cons in order to prepare for the future of electronic practice in Wisconsin.  Kohn Law Firm has been taking numerous steps over the past year to review the ins and outs of the e-filing system in Wisconsin and prepare for the changes that will be necessary if this mandate takes effect.  We have contributed to the discussion with many judges and will continue to share our constructive criticism with the chief judges so that if, in fact, the mandate proposal passes, the system takes into account the needs and concerns of the largest filing firms in Wisconsin.



[1] Joe Forward, Mandatory E-filing: Proposal Mandates Electronic Court Filings in Wisconsin, Sep. 3, 2014, http://www.wisbar.org/NewsPublications/InsideTrack/Pages/Article.aspx?Volume=6&Issue=17&ArticleID=23528.

[2] Id.

[3] PACER, www.pacer.gov (last visited Sep. 10, 2014).

[4] In the matter of the Creation of a Court Rule Governing Electronic Filing in the Circuit Courts, 2008 WI 36 (Wis. 2008).

[5] Id.

[6] Wisconsin Court System, www.wicourts.gov/ecourts/efilecircuit.htm (last visited Sep. 10, 2014).

[7] Id.

[8] Marquette University Law School, Electronic Filing: Wisconsin Court System (Presentation, May 15, 2012).

[9] Id. at 5.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 6.

[12] Id. at 7.

[13] Mandatory E-filing, at 2.

Posted: 9/11/2014 2:03:10 PM by Tom Connor | with 0 comments