Electronic filing of documents and web-based access to court materials has become commonplace in many U.S. states. Many counties have completed the digitization of court records, while many others are moving towards accomplishing this goal. Once the paper records and legal documents are converted to electronic format, all transactions are digitized to improve the efficiency and productivity of the system. All pleadings and court documents filed by attorneys in civil, probate, and domestic cases need to be filed electronically which allows fast and simultaneous access to the records.
It was recently reported that the Supreme Court of Texas made electronic filing mandatory for all civil cases by July 1, 2014. All non-juvenile civil cases, including family and probate cases, by attorneys in district courts, constitutional courts, statutory county courts, and statutory probate courts have to be filed electronically. The Bell County Clerk started accepting permissive electronic civil and probate filings through the eFileTexas.gov portal starting November 1, 2013 and has enforced the mandatory e-filing from July 1, 2014 onwards. Hill County is also stepping towards the filling of civil process papers in electronic format, according to another report. The smallest counties in the state have until July 2016 to digitize their operations.
According to another recent report, Butler County in Ohio is taking steps to preserve its court records. Many court offices of the county including the prothonotary and recorder of deeds have scanned and indexed documents to be viewed on court house computers. Permanent records are stored on microfilm instead of electronic databases.
One of the major benefits of digitizing court records is that documents in electronic format can be moved more rapidly and less expensively than in a paper-based system. Some factors driving digitization of court records include
- Space for paper storage and overheads for tracking a particular document from a pile of case files is reduced considerably
- Eliminates geographic barriers in accessing records
- More cost effective and convenient than a paper-based file storage system
- Reduces foot traffic in courthouse offices
- Eliminates the need for physical handling of court records
- Reduces the chances for record loss
- Computers can search for and locate keywords easily in digitized court records
Implementing an e-filing system for accessing court records is expected to improve the efficiency of court clerks and attorneys. Electronic court records can considerably reduce the time and effort invested in document management by helping in the easy access of files available across courts and other legal houses.