Michigan has passed a law creating a statewide e-filing system designed to make life easier for lawyers and litigants across the state. But will the voluntary system actually make practicing law more convenient?
Tired of learning a new filing system for each court where you appear? A set of laws passed by the Michigan legislator and taking effect this year are designed to create one statewide system. But the jury is still out over whether the law will actually make things easier for Michigan lawyers.
Michael H.R. Buckles, Director of Litigation at Buckles & Buckles, PLC, has called the new Michigan system a “model” to be emulated by states across the country. He says the new system with “dramatically facilitate e-filing for litigants because it will establish a uniform digital platform for all users, employing a single portal for filing documents in any court.”
The law also allows the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO) to create and manage a fund, paid for through a one-time filing fee on every non-criminal case, that will give poorer counties access to the technology. The fee will be $25 for circuit court, $10 for district court, and $5 for small claims. These fees can be waived by a court if a litigant is indigent.
All of this sounds great, but it ignores one key aspect of the law: it is voluntary. While court clerks across the state started charging the e-filing fee in March, there is nothing in the law that requires counties with e-filing systems in place to convert to the “statewide” system.
In Oakland County, for example, e-filing has been the norm for several years. While cases involving the juvenile court and the Friend of the Court still require paper filing, everything else goes through a proprietary e-filing system. That system is paid for by per-transaction fees, which can make every proof of service a money-making proposition.
Because Michigan’s new statewide e-filing system is “opt-in“, there is nothing to motivate Oakland and other counties with existing e-filing systems to make the change. Lawyers practicing in these counties will still need to maintain accounts for each county that chooses to continue with their own systems. And they will continue to pay per document in those counties who see the financial benefit of opting out.
The statewide system will certainly help less privileged counties and many district courts across the state come into the 21st Century by making e-filing available where it is not otherwise affordable. But whether it will actually make the average Michigan lawyer’s life any easier remains to be seen. If those larger counties with existing e-filing systems choose not to opt in, litigants there will have to pay twice for the less efficient, piecemeal systems already in place. Without a mandatory system, it will be up to the local court administrators to do what’s right for their local lawyers and litigants.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes memoranda, motions, and briefs for lawyers with too much on their plates. If you have overflow work that needs an attentive eye an
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