On July 1, 2017, the State of Illinois moved forward with requirements for electronic filing in the Illinois Supreme and Appellate Courts. That means that any document filed in those courts must now be done electronically into a secured system. On January 1, 2018, the trial courts will also move to mandatory electronic filing. This is a dramatic shift in the legal system, which requires significant changes in the practice of law. Once sorted out, it should result in benefits to both clients and attorneys.
How Will Things Change?
There are a number of growing pains associated with the decision to require electronic filing of documents, that will potentially slow the process of legal work down in the short term. First, there are a number of secure electronic filing systems that will allow the filing of documents. Currently, there are approximately 6 such systems available, with many more potentially on the way. Each system is slightly different and will require attorneys and their staff to learn the ins and outs of that system before they are totally comfortable with it.
Second, the documents must be made “searchable” before they can be uploaded. This requires additional conversions by attorneys and their staff to convert a word document into a PDF document. Typically, this isn’t a lengthy process, but anytime a document is converted, the potential for error and conversion errors arise. This will require additional training and comfort with this software, before it is as quick as paper.
Third, the documents uploaded to the electronic system must be approved by the clerk before they can be filed. This is an additional step that adds uncertainty into the process of filing documents. Unlike paper filings, electronic documents have many more requirements that must be strictly followed before documents can be accepted, such as margins and font. In the past, a minor error in spacing would not likely have been noticed and been accepted. Under the new system, filings must be individually accepted before being considered ‘filed’ with the court.
Benefits For All Parties Involved
The benefit from these growing pains will be faster filings and easier access. With paper filings, attorneys were frequently at the mercy of the postal service to deliver critical pleadings to both the court and opposing attorneys. Under the new system, both court and counsel will receive filings immediately. This has the potential to save weeks of litigation time wasted over the course of complicated matters spent waiting for documents to arrive.
Second, documents will now be provided in an electronic format. This allows certain records to be scanned and worked within an easier, more straightforward manner. For example, it is not unusual for certain responses to repeat allegations made in the original motion. Rather than typing out pages of allegations already contained in the original, attorneys will be able to copy those allegations over and start work immediately.
Change is always difficult, even for something as mundane as filing documents. Everyone will need to be patient in the short term when learning the new systems, but once finished, it will be much faster and efficient to receive electronic filings. This benefits the courts, the attorneys, and ultimately, the clients as well.