Sitting behind her desk in a second floor City Hall office, Deborah Dailey appears pleased.
It has been close to three years since the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania unveiled its electronic filing, or “e-filing,” system, and things really seem to have caught on.
Dailey, who serves as both a deputy prothonotary and the chief deputy clerk of courts, (the former, civil division, the latter, criminal), for the First Judicial District, said the courts rolled out their electronic filing program in August 2008. The system was discretionary through January 2009, after which it became mandatory.
The system was developed to both streamline the process of filing claims, and make it more environmentally sound, cutting much of the paperwork associated with filings out of the process.
“It’s really exceeded our expectations,” Dailey said during a recent interview in her office.
Initially, court officials envisioned problems with regard to e-filing and pro-se litigants, or those filing claims without an attorney, since not everyone is technologically blessed, but the opposite seems to have happened.
“I guess people are more computer savvy than we thought,” Dailey said.
Attorneys and individuals can file a claim anytime during the week, since the courts website is accessible 24/7, although claims will only receive the prothonotary’s stamp of approval during business hours Monday through Friday.
Dailey said it took the First Judicial District nearly four years to develop the electronic filing system, with court officials traveling the country to check out e-filing systems in other jurisdictions.
Officials also solicited feedback from various stakeholders, such as members of the Philadelphia Bar Association, who lent advice and suggestions on how the system could better operate.
Dailey said court officials are pleased at the work done by the district’s own information technology personnel and data processing team members, which has helped to ensure the system’s success.
“We attribute much of its success to the fact that we built it in-house,” Dailey said of electronic filing.
Through electronic filing, attorneys and pro-se litigants can file civil claims, take care of payment and keep better track of their claims.
So far, the system seems to be favored by attorneys as well as those who work for the courts. Robert Foster, an attorney with the Center City firm of Reger, Rizzo & Darnall LLP, said when he first began practicing law two decades ago, most counties in Pennsylvania “employed archaic filing requirements, which included separate backers for each document along with specific directions on how a pleading should be stapled together.”
In an emailed statement, Foster said lawyers looking to review a court file would have to go to the courthouse, request the paper file and pay an “exorbitant” photocopying fee in years past.
“Electronic filing substantially increases the efficiency of the office,” Foster wrote.
Foster said most of the complaints about e-filing stem from a person’s willingness, or unwillingness, to adapt. Attorneys can no longer forego having an Internet connection at their office, he said, and an electronic scanner to create documents is a must.
“Technological advances, though, have substantially lowered the costs of these systems to lawyers,” he wrote.
Foster said he understands some of the human element is lost to technological advances like e-filing, and this could hurt courthouse couriers who have experienced a drop in business since the advent of e-filing.
But at the same time, the good seems to outweigh the bad when it comes to e-filing.
“Electronic filing substantially reduces the burdens of storing the hundreds of thousands of documents filed each year,” Foster wrote. “I look forward to when all the local counties have adopted an electronic filing system.”
According to a news release from nearby Delaware County’s public relationships department, that county adopted electronic filing for the civil section of its Court of Common Pleas on M
The news release states that the action made Delaware County the seventh out of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to introduce electronic filing.