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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, August 13, 2017 1:00 am

E-filing advancing at courthouse

Mandatory for attorneys, but 'still some dust in the air'

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

It might have prompted some older lawyers to retire early, but the mandatory electronic filing of legal papers is gaining favor in many corners of the Allen County Courthouse.

E-filing, the computerized way to record documents without setting foot in a courthouse, had a soft launch Feb. 6 in Allen County as part of a statewide effort to go paperless. It has been mandatory for attorneys since May 5. The initiative is being slowly rolled out, with 50 counties where it is now mandatory.

Christopher M. Nancarrow, Allen County chief deputy court clerk, said he's heard good feedback from paralegals and attorneys now that the learning curve is over. Whether the system will be a time saver for the office is still uncertain, he added.

“There's still some dust in the air,” he said. “It's starting to settle a little bit, so we're trying to find efficiencies out there.”

With a few hiccups, the integration has gone “real well,” said Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay, who is leading the local effort.

Confidentiality rules continue to confuse lawyers, with some labeling entire documents confidential when only a Social Security or bank account number needs to be redacted, Bobay said.

“The problem really has been that rather than having too much confidential information be made public, it's the opposite, that people are going overboard in designating things as confidential that really are not,” he said. “So, we're continuing to have to work through that.”

And because reading an electronic file is different from reading a paper one, Bobay and others are teaching lawyers the fine points of writing in an electronic environment.

Research shows the brain processes information on computer differently, with people tending to skim words and sentences, he said.

The most important information needs to be at the top to catch a judge's eye, he said.

The use of argument summaries early in a legal brief helps. Headings, font sizes and white spaces for the eyes to rest are also helpful, Bobay added.

While the public can still file paper documents, no paper moves between the judges and clerk's office, Nancarrow said.

“If I was a judge, it definitely would change the way I would do things,” he said. “In terms of taking notes on the side of my paper margins, I would have to look at the screen and try to work with the whole new interface.”

Learning a new computerized system after a lifetime of paper was enough for some older lawyers to call it quits, said Gina Zimmerman, executive director of the Allen County Bar Association. She didn't have numbers.

“I know some attorneys have retired because of it, or else they were at the age of where they go, oh well, you can't teach an old dog new tricks kind of thing,” she said.

Bobay said he is not surprised some found learning the new system daunting.

“I know when we were teaching the courses on getting ready for e-filing for lawyers that was something I anticipated and said, 'When there really are no exceptions to the e-filing process, you either have to get on board or maybe consider about whether you want to continue to practice.'”