Electronic filing (e-filing) of documents with state courts is sweeping the country. If it is not yet in your state, chances are that it will be soon. Here is a list of the status of e-filing in state courts in the states.
Preceding the implementation of e-filing programs, seminars and written material have been provided to lawyers and their staffs on how to use the e-filing system in their jurisdictions. Having attended some of those seminars, I can attest to the fact that e-filing is so easy that even lawyers can do it.
And judging from the time entries in legal bills that I review, many lawyers have begun to e-file their own documents instead of having the legal secretaries or assistants do it for them. Thus, the question: will attorney e-filing of their own documents eventually lead to another round of support staff layoffs like we experienced during the Great Recession? (See my earlier post on law firm staff lay-offs leading to more work previously done by non-billing legal secretaries now being done by lawyers.)
But while it is great to see lawyers (who are generally considered luddites when it comes to leverging technology in their practices) doing their own e-filing, there is just one thing wrong with it. E-filing of documents is not considered to be billable even when done by the lawyer or the paralegal. See Moralez v Whole Foods Mkt., Inc., 2013 WL 3967639 [ND Cal July, 2013] ; In re: Gregory James Weaver and Mary Janine Weaver, No. 13-10-12204 JA, United States Bankruptcy Court, D. New Mexico, March 11, 2011.
Of course, it is not just court documents that are being sent and received electronically. Large volumes of medical records and other discovery requests are also now sent and received electronically. Other documents and correspondence between lawyers and clients or other parties can (and should) be sent and received electronically most of the time.
With so much in a lawyer’s file having been sent or received electronically, an important question is raised. Why are many law firms still charging client hundreds of dollars per file to copy documents?
Litigation & Billing Guidelines that I draft for clients require entries for copy charges to have the name of the document(s) copied and the number of copies made. Thus, when I review the legal bills, I know which documents are being copied for deposition or court hearing purposes and which documents likely are being copied because the law firms are clinging stubbornly to the office practice of converting all documents (including electronic documents) to paper copies. (Did I mention that lawyers are generally considered to be luddites when it comes to leveraging technology in their practices?)
Of course, it is one thing if a law firms wants to absorb the costs of this inefficiency. It is quite another thing to charge for it which is why courts are not questioning these costs. See Banas v. Volcano Corp.•47 F.Supp.3d 957, 979 (E.D. Cal. 2014) (court denying requested $56,492.39 in “printing, copying, and scanning services” because the law firm did not “explain its need to print or copy so many documents when it had access to these documents in electronic form.”).
When I see such inefficiency being billed for, I always make sure to let the insurer or the client paying the lawyer’s bill know about it. I suggest that they need to have a conversation with the lawyer about billing for their own inefficiencies. And, as I always point out, my observation and experience over the years has been that law firm inefficiencies are generally not limited to just one thing. (Did I mention that lawyers are generally considered to be luddites when it comes to leveraging technology in their practices?)