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March 15, 2013
Clerks brace for avalanche of e-filings

With only a few weeks to go before April 1, there is a noticeable increase in documents being filed through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal.

“In just one month,” noted Levi Owens, portal project manager, “we have seen the average number of documents coming through the portal jump from about 43,000 to almost 105,000. We expect that number to spike as we near April 1.”

Since October 2012, when the Supreme Court issued revised SC11-399, mandating all civil case documents be filed electronically by April 1, there has been an effort on the part of county clerks of court to reach out to local attorneys who will be filing civil cases. They want to make sure attorneys are aware of the mandate, as well as how to best send documents through the portal to their offices.

Looking inward, clerks’ offices are focused on adapting to the new workflow process and want to make sure all goes smoothly. The Polk County Clerk’s Office is among the top 10 clerks’ offices in the state receiving a large number of electronically filed civil case documents already.

“We developed a flyer on e-filing that we have given out to every attorney who has filed for the past months,” said Clerk Stacy Butterfield. “We have done what we could locally to provide as much information as possible, from information on our website, to CLE training on e-filing.”

Butterfield is not unlike her fellow clerks in getting out the word.

In Lee County, Clerk Linda Doggett said her office has offered training for several months to allow local attorneys a chance to get familiar with the concept of e-filing. Informational materials are posted on the Lee County Clerk’s website and the office has provided a phone number for local attorneys if they have questions about using the portal.

“We have offered hands-on training sessions in our training room so attorneys can file and get comfortable with using the portal. I have personally attended them so I understand from all sides what we are moving to,” commented Doggett.

“While I know we are only getting a small percentage of civil filings, what will happen April 1 is still the unknown.”

And the unknown is the issue.

Bob Inzer, Leon County clerk of the court, recently offered a “Lunch and Learn” session for local attorneys to make sure they were aware that the deadline was approaching.

“In a recent Florida Courts E-Filing Authority Board of Directors meeting, I asked if there was an awareness to the volume of filings the portal is seeing now versus the actual number of filings normally seen in paper,” Inzer said. “I was nervous to hear that the portal was receiving only about 10 percent of what would be coming over the next year. We have worked hard in Leon County to make sure local attorneys had an opportunity to know what was coming. But we are readying for a huge increase in volume here come April 1.”

Already lessons are being learned.

Manatee Clerk R.B. “Chips” Shore has been e-filing through a local system for some time, but has recently connected his system to the statewide portal.

“We have worked extensively with our local filers to make sure that they do not file anything that is larger than the 8.5 x 11 format, no greater than 25 megabytes, and no more than 300 dpi if scanned. Color copies and fax cover sheets are not necessary,” he explained. “Just the regular civil cover sheet will do and works well with our case maintenance system. We are also hearing from attorneys asking if they can send proposed orders, ones that judges usually sign, through the portal. Proposed orders and judgments will still need to be sent to the judges directly for this county — not electronically through the portal. Overall, we have cross-trained everyone to work the incoming filings, in addition to manning the counter. It is a new process for everyone, and we anticipate making some changes along the way to help make it even easier. ”

As Duval County is one of the larger counties in the state, it is not surprising they are ninth in the list of the top 10 counties with the highest volume, receiving over 8,000 documents in January. And it is still increasing. Staff there says attorneys are asking a lot of questions — which is good. They encourage attorneys to come to a training session more than once until they get comfortable with the new system. Like other counties, go to the Duval clerk’s website to read any e-filing information that may be posted.

Upgrades are being made frequently, as the portal is readying for April 1 and beyond. The following list of browsers are supported by the portal for submission of filings by a filer: Internet Explorer 8.0 and above, Firefox (FF) 3.0 and above, Chrome, and Safari 5.0 and above. Currently, no mobile devices have been certified for use by filers and, while they may work, they are not supported and should not be used in the event your filing does not transmit properly.

Tim Smith, chair of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority and clerk of Putnam County, notes, “In February, we saw that almost 22,000 attorneys had registered to use the system. But we expect 10,000 or more will still need to register by April 1. The sooner attorneys begin sending their case documents through the system, the more skilled we will all be. I am locally urging all our regular filers to go electronic as soon as possible.”

To find out more, visit your local clerk’s website, as many clerks have posted educational materials. The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority has developed a new set of frequently asked questions and has recently posted a number of short videos to help filers get started. The portal is still only open to attorneys and their staffs, but discussions are ongoing as to when other filers may be added.

(This report was compiled by the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers and edited by the Bar News.)

[Revised: 09-01-2014]