GARDEN CITY – Wallace L. Leinheardt, a partner at Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman, routinely files cases electronically in federal court.
But if click-and-send is customary, and even mandatory, in federal courts, the Garden City attorney still sends his motions through snail mail or has them delivered in-person when he deals with state courts.
That can mean both long lines at courthouses and the added time that goes along with the mail or messenger.
Finally, though, things could change for Leinheardt and other lawyers in the state.
While the federal courts process vast amounts of electronic filings, state courts are only slowly implementing electronic filing systems.
New York State Bar President Vincent Buzard of Rochester last month named a task force to look into ways to improve and expand e-filing, saying more widespread electronic filing will ‘enhance lawyer productivity for the good of their clients.’ As a task force member, Leinheardt notes that there are pilot projects.
‘What we’re trying to do is coordinate on a statewide basis the various systems being tried,’ he says.
‘It’s a hassle.’
There are many reasons e-filing has been slow to catch on in state courts, including the lack of statewide coordination and problems on the local level.
In Nassau County, e-filing has been held up by problems such as the delay in creating a system to pay online.
Courts statewide went their own way, often unable to devise a system that saves attorneys time and money – and doesn’t cost the courts too much.
Cultural inertia, the desire to do things as they’ve always been done, also may be holding back change.
‘To some extent, it’s a generational thing,’ said Scott M. Karson, a partner at Melville-based Lamb & Barnosky who also serves on the e-filing task force. ‘Lawyers out of law school more recently are far more conversant with computers, so it may come more easily.’
The shift to e-filing also has been slowed by concerns over privacy, and the need to restrict access to confidential information and prevent the filing of false documents.
‘We’re troubled by the concept that some hacker God knows where can come into a court file, pick up things like Social Security numbers, dollar amounts of assets,’ says Leinheardt. ‘Someone could send a pleading or file a paper using my name that’s not a true filing, create bogus litigation.’
In addition to setting up systems that work, the state court must decide whether and when to require e-filing.
‘In the federal system, it’s automatic and mandatory,’ explains Kevin Schlosser, co-chair of the litigation and dispute resolution practice at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Mineola. ‘Eventually, they should make it mandatory. The state courts also are deciding whether to use one or several vendors to implement systems to keep expenses low.’
‘The cost has to be absorbed somehow,’ adds Leinheardt. ‘How will that cost be determined? The more people who use the system, the more economical it is.’
While the shift to e-filing may take time and involve glitches, most attorneys think it will be worth the wait.
‘Computers make life much easier,’ says Schlosser.
Karson sums it up best: ‘Once you’re conversant with it, I guess it’s easier to make a few keystrokes on your computer.’