E-filing is on the horizon for Maryland courts and all Maryland attorneys. Once up and running, the new judicial electronic case management system will give attorneys the opportunity to file and access their court documents electronically, making life much easier for most practitioners in the state. By 2015, Maryland's entire court management system should "go green," becoming a paperless operation.
The Judiciary is introducing the Maryland Electronic Courts (MEC) system to enhance the court's efficiency, speed up its processes and advance its overall operation. The court actually initiated this conversion in 2003 and has already invested $12 million in MEC. The goal of this $50+ million project, slated for all four levels of the court, is to increase access to justice and public safety.
Maryland attorneys, as well as the state's Judiciary, will reap the benefits of MEC, and one of the biggest advantages for the Bar will be electronic filing. When e-filing is instituted, lawyers will be able to electronically file their documents with the court remotely, 24/7. They will no longer have to go to the courthouse to file papers to meet a court deadline.
MEC will also give attorneys the ability to electronically access court documents online. In this way, they can electronically view all of the documents in their cases immediately, 24/7, and conduct all of their case searches online. Law practitioners will be able to see the full text of documents and, down the road, even receive e-notices for their cases online.
The e-case management system will prove advantageous to Maryland's court, too, saving time and money. The expense saved from the elimination of paper alone will be staggering. Court processes will be streamlined, expediting judicial operations as they become more efficient. MEC will also speed up the delivery of court notices, orders and other documents and eliminate handling and mailing costs for both the court and attorneys.
Attorneys will need to affiliate with an e-filing support service to initiate electronic access with the Court. They will have the choice of hooking up with the Court's basic service, deemed sufficient for most solo and small firm practitioners, or with private vendors offering advanced services, more conducive to larger law firms. Costs should range from $5 per filing for the basic service to roughly $8 to $9 per filing for the more sophisticated ones.
Attorneys opting for the court's basic service will only need a computer and a scanner, and their initial "out-of-pocket costs" are expected to be low. Those in larger firms may find the sophisticated options offered by independent vendors more attractive. But any attorney or law firm affiliating with a private service must be certified by the court's Judicial Information System to ensure the necessary technology for e-filing is in place.
The Honorable Ben C. Clyburn, Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland, has assumed the lead role in overseeing this massive judicial undertaking. Clyburn has mobilized the Judiciary, its justice partners and Maryland's legal community in the pursuit of this efficient and effective electronic court system which will benefit the court, the Bar and the public. He unveiled MEC and e-filing in the state's courts to Maryland attorneys during MSBA's Annual Meeting in June.
"The court service should be sufficient for most solo and small firm practitioners; we put the fee schedule together on the lower end to accommodate them," reports Clyburn. Larger law firms with internal case management systems "may want to take full advantage of the ‘bells and whistles' and the plethora of options available through private vendors," he adds, "such as paging, notification and integration with the larger law firm's system to help with billings, paging and other court notifications."
E-filing will be voluntary for Maryland lawyers, although it is "highly recommended" by the Court. Attorney training for the new system's use will be available through the court. Maryland's Judiciary plans to unveil its first MEC pilot project, including e-filing, in 2012 in Anne Arundel County. Based on its success, the Court will begin rolling out MEC on a county-by-county basis until it is available in all 23 counties and Baltimore City by 2015.
The Court is actively seeking input from MSBA and is working with the Association's Special Committee on E-filing, chaired by Dana O. Williams, to explore the lawyers' views on e-filing and the problems they may encounter.