Electronic filing of court documents is steadily becoming a reality in multiple states and jurisdictions across the nation. More and more courts are adopting eFiling technologies and, as such, many law firms are finding that they need to adapt the way they do business to be in line with these changes.
However, some firms can find themselves uninformed and under pressure when realizing the impact of transitioning from paper filing to eFiling. This can put them behind the eight ball when it comes to the successful implementation of electronic filing within their respective firms and various office locations. In fact, some firms wait so long to start the transition process that they find themselves scrambling to adjust at the last minute. This can cause unnecessary anxiety and can lead to costly mistakes, including potential sanctions.
By following these five steps, firms can better position themselves to mitigate both undue distress and unanticipated problems when implementing electronic filing into their firm workflows.
Change takes time. Don’t wait until the last minute to implement eFiling, especially when it has been mandated by the court. When it comes to managing change, preparation is an essential component of doing it right. Key stakeholders within the firm, along with department leaders should:
Open business models for eFiling are being readily adopted by courts. In these models, there is often one vendor chosen as the eFiling portal that integrates with the court’s Case Management System with multiple eFiling/eService vendors whose platforms can be used to deliver documents through that portal. As with any technology decisions, it is important to know what functionalities your firm can’t live without. Remember this choice is about the provider that is best for how the firm works, not the court. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” Not all vendors are created equally and if you choose to go with the lowest cost vendor, you might be sacrificing performance for low costs. For instance, firms should take services like document conversion, extended document storage, billing options and reports, payment methods, comprehensive training and support services, and the successful history of the vendor into consideration before deciding which system is best for their firm.
Once an eFiling vendor is chosen, proper training on the chosen eFiling platform is the quickest way to successful electronic filing. This is one of the reasons why it is important for firms to choose a vendor that has an established history of successful training and ongoing support. Contracting with a vendor with an established training program – and implementing the program early – will allow firm users time to retain what they learn and to address any questions they have before their jurisdictions go live with eFiling. Look for providers that offer training options that are flexible and fit the firm’s needs, whether a small firm or a global firm with multiple offices.
Another key to success is efficiency and communication within – and between – legal teams. As part of transitioning to eFiling within your firm, identify your current workflows such as operating procedures, case life cycles, “buddy” systems between legal assistants, etc. These processes should be mapped as they currently are, and then mapped as they are predicted to look when eFiling is implemented. Once that is accomplished, firms can identify and address any gaps they find between their current processes and how to use the new technology tools provided by their chosen eFiling vendor to improve these processes and increase efficiencies.
Stay on target, re-evaluate after implementation, and celebrate positive results. Unanticipated issues will more than likely pop up during and after implementation. Beyond problems with technology and workflows, a common reaction to change is for people to revert to their old ways after trying new processes for a while. It is important for firms to understand this and be flexible and nimble enough to accommodate and address these issues. As mentioned above, by standardizing process, it will be easier to diagnose the results of the implementation. Then, firms can adapt and improve their strategies, as needed, for ongoing improvement and success.
However, firms should not just focus on problems. Always be sure to recognize the benefits (e.g. time savings, cost reduction, risk mitigation, etc.) and celebrate both small and large accomplishments along the way.
Change takes time, commitment, and the appropriate planning to get the best results and longevity. Unfortunately, the timeline for implementing eFiling doesn’t always allow for onboarding at an individual’s own pace. Implementing change can be an inconvenient and even painful experience, even if the change will ultimately be beneficial for both the firm and its clients. That is why it is so important to get ahead of the game and follow the above steps. In doing so, firms can better position themselves to operate more efficiently and gain a competitive edge.
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