by Gwynne A. Young
I had to chuckle when I heard Bar President-elect-designate Greg Coleman say one of his partners still prints out emails and dictates responses.
I may not be the most tech-savvy lawyer in Florida, but at least I’m not that bad!
I have been around long enough to remember when we banged out pleadings on typewriters. More than three decades ago, when I first joined Carlton Fields, I remember using tri-colored carbon paper so I had white, yellow, and blue copies for my files.
Fast forward to the present, and we are entering the brave new e-world. We are now taking the first big step in Florida’s journey toward paperless courts. That journey promises to increase the efficiency of our court system at all levels.
April 1, all attorneys are required to use Florida’s e-filing “portal” for the filing of civil cases in the trial courts and to file documents with the Florida Supreme Court.
Criminal filings in trial courts must be made through the e-portal effective October 1. The effective dates for appellate filings have been staggered as follows: July 22 for the Second District Court of Appeal, September 27 for the Third DCA, October 31 for the Fourth DCA, November 27 for the Fifth DCA, and December 27 for the First DCA.
If you aren’t up to speed on e-filing, now’s the time to do so because e-filing is mandatory.
Naturally, anything new can be unsettling. But Florida lawyers, judges, and clerks are all in this together, and no one should be left behind. E-filing is now the way Florida lawyers will do their business with state courts.
A few no-no’s that have emerged: Some lawyers think it’s like a fax and send a cover sheet. Please don’t. The portal help desk employees have been receiving emailed documents accompanied by notes, such as “Please file my document,” or with the directive, “Please correct the filing I just sent by replacing it with this document.” The portal help desk personnel cannot file for an attorney much less alter a document meant for the court.
The clerks warn us to expect glitches and bumps in the road. After all, Levi Owens and Melvin Cox, who are overseeing setting up
the portal, noted that in 2012, 360,859 filings were made through the portal, the majority of those civil cases. Yet, Supreme Court statistics show there were four million filings in Florida’s courts overall.
We must do our part to get with the program, and there is plenty of help available.
Go to The Florida Bar’s website at http://www.floridabar.org and you will find a prominent resource button on the home page — “eFiling Resources” — that links to a complete list of e-filing resources available, including YouTube videos about the benefits of electronic filing and an overview of the portal, document submission standards, and a manual on how to e-file.
This button will also link you to the website of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority at http://www.flclerks.com/eFiling_authority.html.
They are the overseers of the portal through which all state court filings will be made. And it will link you to the portal at http://www.myflcourtaccess.com. The portal has step-by-step directions for registering.
As the Supreme Court detailed in its February 18 administrative order, No. AOSC13-7 (In re Electronic Filing in the Supreme Court of Florida Via the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal), once you register for a password-secured portal account, and you are assigned a user name and password, it is your responsibility to safeguard this information to prevent unauthorized filings.
“Any electronic filings received via the filer’s username are presumed to have been submitted by the filer,” the order says.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston ordered: “Members of The Florida Bar are requested to remain diligent in keeping track of updated requirements regarding filing through the portal. Additional administrative issues may be issued as required and will be posted on this court’s website at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/clerk/adminorders/index.shtml.”
Many stories have been written about this in The Florida Bar News, including a helpful, nuts-and-bolts, Q-and-A in the February 15 issue that is available on the Bar’s website.
The Florida Bar is also planning a three-session “e-seminar series” at The Florida Bar Annual Convention on June 26 at the Boca Raton Resort and Club: “Adjusting to Service by Email: Fundamentals, Failures, and Consequences,” “E-Filing and the E-Portal in Florida State Courts,” and “10 Things Florida Lawyers Must Know About E-Discovery.” The Bar will record these seminars during the convention and make them available as complimentary OnDemand CLE programs via the Lawyers Helping Lawyers program.
One detail that emerged from a recent meeting of the Florida Court E-filing Authority is that Bar members who become delinquent on their membership fees or CLE reporting could find themselves cut off from the ability to file court documents, because when lawyers register to do e-filing, they give their Bar numbers as checks.
The legislature declared that e-filing be done, but it came in the middle of a recession and was an unfunded mandate. Since then, the authority board has voted to ask the legislature for a nearly $1.1 million appropriation. The lion’s share of this request will be used to fund an up to 10-person help desk to assist lawyers with e-filing.
You can reach the statewide help desk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (850) 577-4609. And you can contact the clerk in the county where you wish to file.
As with any new program, we know there will be growing pains, and at times it could get messy. But please have patience. Take comfort that there has been a huge amount of testing of the portal. If you haven’t already, please get registered.
The countdown clock for e-filing has stopped. The time is now. Soon we’ll all look back and think sending a runner to the courthouse to file documents is as antiquated as tri-colored carbon paper.