Posted on September 23, 2019 by Joseph Lamport
One of the problematic aspects of technology is how often it creates new problems while trying to solve old ones. We regularly see this tendency at work in the legal business, where, as a general matter, we start with the initial promise that digital technology is going to make our lives simpler and more efficient but instead we end up overwhelmed by a proliferation of data and digital content, which makes it increasingly difficult to get anything done. As a result, we need ever newer and more powerful technology to help us manage the mess that our current technology has spawned. It’s reminiscent of the drinker who drinks to forget he’s drinking in the Little Prince, with the problem and solution forever chasing each other in circular fashion.
Electronic court filings are a good example of how technology, at least so far, has fallen far short of the mark in making lawyers’ lives easier. Quite to the contrary, ever since the advent of e-filings two decades ago, lawyers have encountered an escalating series of problems when it comes filing their pleadings electronically. The systems and rules for electronic filing have evolved in wildly divergent fashion, not just from state to state, but from district to district and often even an individual judge’s chambers will have its own peculiar e-filing requirements. This turns out to be a hazard to the unwary and very likely constitutes an underlying cause for the upsurge in litigation-related malpractice claims in recent years.
According to Erez Bustan, the CEO of American LegalNet, 10% of all electronic filings made in the Los Angeles courts are rejected, for one reason or another. Bustan says that rejection rates run at about that same elevated level in most state court systems. That’s really remarkable when you think about it. Going back thirty years or so, even a managing attorney with a heavy drinking problem would most likely have been able to correctly file 99% of a firm’s paper pleadings in the court clerk’s office. But now, thanks to technology, we have an explosion of rejected filings, and law firms have a whole new set of problems on their hands. Bustan estimates that 38% of all legal malpractice claims are directly attributable to deadline, calendaring or administrative errors, while claims with potential exposure in excess of $1 million have increased by more than 900% since 2012.
What can law firms do about it? Amercian LegalNet’s answer is, in a sense, predictable – this week they announced the launch of a new product called eFilingPortal.com. But this time, rather than unleashing a new technology (along with new tech-related problems), ALN’s goal is to streamline and radically simplify the administrative process for e-filing. Indeed, their new product doesn’t entail any new technology so much as it integrates and combines existing technology into a single platform, which thereby has the potential to provide law firms with far more ability to manage and control the process. The key features of eFilingPortal.com include firm-wide single sign-on across all courts and jurisdictions (which enables better management of passwords), automatic document conversion to comply with court filing requirements, built-in validation and error handling for all filings, plus integration with calendaring, court forms, email and DMS systems, all of which is designed to centralize control and drive down the filing rejection rate.
Are we at a point where technology may finally be in a position to better deliver on its promise to make our working lives simpler? ALN’s eFIlingPortal.com is one of a number of major products in the legal market that are pursuing the strategy of platformization today. Whether it’s in the category of client relationship management (such as Intapp), practice management (such as Clio and ZolaSuite) or e-filing and docketing (such as eFilingPortal.com), the primary goal of these platform companies is to bring various critical pieces and components together into an integrated technology framework, in order to enhance end-user control over what up until now has been disparate and often incompatible data sources and management processes.
One thing is certain – as much promise as platformization holds to improve and simplify our working lives, it is not a goal that can be achieved over night. In the case of eFilingPortal.com, ALN has laid out a product roadmap that starts with the LA courts going live on the platform this September, followed by most of California’s other state courts, which will be added in October and November. Texas, Illinois, Florida and Georgia courts are scheduled to be tackled over the course of the ensuing 12 months. It remains to be seen how soon the promise of an overall integrated and nationwide e-filing platform can be delivered. Sad to say, in the world of technology, complex solutions are all too easy to accomplish; it’s simplification and streamlining that pose the bigger challenge and often take the most time. But it's encouraging to see that ALN and other companies in the market are at last trying to provide us with technology that lives up to the promise.