The Legal Design Lab and the Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School are working on an ambitious, multi-jurisdiction effort to modernize court efiling and forms, to make the justice system more accessible.
Explore the executive summary, toolkit, and more resources at the SLS main page for the Filing Fairness Project.
Our current Filing Fairness Project cohort includes the state court and justice professional leadership from 6 states: Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia. We are working with these states to understand their current state of efiling and forms, and how to modernize their systems and improve their court user experience.
If you are a technology provider or court official interested in learning more about the Filing Fairness Project, we are eager to hear from you. Please reach out using this link.
Why efiling matters to court users’ journeys & access to justice
A court user’s journey through court forms and filing can be confusing, burdensome, and costly.
Many courts have made strides in recent years to create forms and software tools for filling in these forms. The strategy here is to guide court users through providing the right, required information to the opposing litigants, court clerks, & judge. The forms should lead the court user through providing this required data in a clear format. A document assembly tool should make form completion digital and easier, by leading a user through a guided interview to populate the form’s fields.
These recent advances, however, often aren’t enough to get a user to a successful court filing. For most court users (especially those who don’t have a lawyer), the manual (non-electronic) filing process is hard to follow. Often it requires a printer, sometimes particular formatting, paper, staples, photocopies, or paperclips, and then a visit to the courthouse to submit this paper to the court clerk.
The Filing Fairness Project envisions a near-future when many court users will have a straightforward digital journey through court filing. This future user journey should be simple, clear, and efficient. It would involve a person finding the right court form and document assembly program online. They use the program to fill in the form. They don’t need to download, print, format, copy, and bring the form into court.
Rather, the court user can send the form straight into the court’s case management system by using an Efiling Service Provider (EFSP) that brings the digital form PDF/data to the court’s Efiling Manager (EFM). The EFSP delivers their digital filing into the EFM system, and the court clerk can then review it for completeness before accepting it into their case management system (or rejecting it).
This new user journey will reduce court users’ confusion, inefficiencies, and costs. It should promote their ability to participate in their case, and the efficiency of the court process. Unfortunately, most courts do not currently offer this clear, simple user journey to court litigants, especially those that are self-represented.
We imagine courts offering multiple form and filing pathways in the future. They may retain the in-person, manual processes for those who need extra human services. But for those court users who are digitally literate and interested, they can have an efficient digital experience — and more tech vendors can develop solutions that feed into the EFSP and EFM options.