EDMS or Electronic Data Management System was launched in Iowa in January 2010 with a view to implement electronic court document filing across the state. Paper to electronic document conversion is expected to improve accessibility to the required legal documents and improve efficiency of the judicial system.
Being used in around 40 percent of all Iowa court documents, e-filing is welcomed by legal professionals as it successfully eliminates the hassles associated with paper files.
Paper files can be viewed only by one person at a time and only in the county where they were filed. On the other hand, judges, lawyers, court administrators and others can retrieve legal documents stored as digital files from anywhere at the same time and view them easily. Document conversion into electronic files allows a judge in Plymouth County to file a ruling in a Sioux County case. Lawyers need not rush to get to a court office clerk before the courthouse closes. They can file documents whenever they want via computer. Not only does EDMS help them to file documents after the court timings, but also allows all the parties in that case to view those documents soon after the filing. This will make the routine tasks in courts (for instance, approving orders) quicker. Also, no longer will there be issues such as legal documents being lost during mail transaction or misplaced near the fax machine as in the case of paper files.
Even though conversion of paper into electronic format is beneficial for legal professionals, it may be difficult for people who are not computer-savvy or who don’t file documents often. Most of those people find this system complicated to use and feel paperwork is faster. Providing training on how to use EDMS is an arduous task; an alternative is to allow such people to file paper documents and then transfer the details into the system via document scanning.
Though user-friendliness of EDMS is a matter of concern, the Iowa court system project covers all case types and all files, which is not so common in most of the e-filings. It is expected that once the implementation finishes, Iowa will become the best court system in the country with remarkable improvement in efficiency.
The project was initially scheduled to be implemented in all the 99 Iowa counties by the end of 2014 at a cost of $19 million, the State Court Administrator now says that the task is expected to be completed in the first half of 2015 (project cost won’t rise). The main reason for the delay is that operating the pilot projects in Plymouth and Story counties took a longer time than planned. According to the court administrator, EDMS is more of a customer-built system than a software package bought straight from a vendor. Moreover, it is quite hard to determine what should be expected as there is no system like EDMS ever built before. Hence, its implementation is really tough. Setting apart the related concerns, the electronic system being deployed by the Iowa court system is a perfect example as to how paper to electronic document conversion can help in effective legal document access and management.