The Significance of “ECF” [Electronic Case Filing] in the Courts

The above headline seems a strange topic for this blog. It does not address a particular area of law, or seem to relate to most people other than lawyers. However, this is not so, and is an important development of which the general public should be aware.

Only until a couple of years ago, the “modus operandi” of various activities relating to a court case, ranging from filing the initial papers to researching archived files, was to make a trip to the actual courthouse. That traditional courthouse is rapidly being replaced with the “virtual” courthouse.

The general process is that documents are uploaded from an attorney’s computer (typically in “Adobe” format) to the court’s server for electronic filing. Once uploaded, the file becomes a part of the court’s case file. The court also provides a manner in which people who either do not have a computer or do not have internet access can either deliver a diskette to the clerk or scan documents into terminals at the courthouse.

For security purposes, each attorney is given a password to permit access. That access password must be protected, as it is treated the same as an attorney’s signature.

In 2003, when I first wrote this article, Electronic Case Filing had begun to be used as the only method filing in several New York area courts, including the Bankruptcy Courts, the federal District Courts, and a pilot project in a couple of New York State Supreme Courts.

ECF has significant benefits for various interested parties:

  1. The courthouse eliminates almost all paper storage of files, along with court personnel associated with file handling.
  2. Files or papers will not be lost, misplaced, or destroyed; unfortunately, these problems have been routine occurrences.
  3. Attorney and non-attorney filers are able to file documents at any time, even when the courthouse is closed.
  4. The public is able to view any filed document in an electronic case file at any time and from any place.
  5. Judges are able to easily review documents.

The ability to view documents online from anywhere is probably the most important part of the ECF evolution. The instantaneous viewing of documents can be a tremendous advantage in making decisions. For instance, the viewing of a debtor’s bankruptcy petition online moments after it is filed can afford a creditor sufficient time to determine whether to discharge or whether its claim has been properly listed. Further, the creditor may obtain information on property co-owned by the debtor with a non-filing party. Another example is that ECF access provides the opportunity to verify information given by a credit applicant.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

copyr. 2003 and 2010 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to with any questions.
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