As most Alabama lawyers are aware by now, the state’s General Fund budget is in proration, which means that funds for the state’s court system have been cut along with everything else. And the current prospects for the 2011-2012 budget, which will go into effect on October 1, 2011, don’t look much better.
To help ease the financial strain, Chief Justice Cobb has entered an administrative order requiring that all Alabama attorneys who are actively practicing law register with AlaFile, the court’s optional electronic filing system, by May 13, 2011. Effective May 15, 2011, all notices from all circuit and district clerk’s offices will be transmitted through the AlaFile system. This will eliminate the expenses, such as printing and postage, of transmitting notices by U.S. Mail. Since this has raised lots of questions since we first sent out an email blast about it this morning, hopefully, this post will help you understand what you need to do and what it all means for all practicing attorneys.
What do I need to do?
If you are already signed up for AlaFile, you don’t need to do anything. If you are licensed to practice law but are not signed up, registration is easy. Here’s all you need to do:
- Browse to AlaCourt.gov by clicking on this link.
- In the upper right hand corner of the screen, click on Register.
- Complete the Registration form. You will need to enter both your Attorney Code issued by the Administrative Office of Courts (this is the number you put on pleadings) and your ASB Bar ID number issued by the Alabama State Bar.
- Click the Submit button and you’re done. You will now be registered to receive email notifications from the courts.
There is a training video which explains all the fields in the Registration form, if you need more help with registration than the steps above provide.
If you do not know your AOC Attorney Code, you must contact the Administrative Office of Courts to get it. Call AOC at 866-954-9411. You will get a recording and will need to select Option 1 and then Option 3 to get your attorney code. For all other inquiries to AOC about this new policy, select Option 1 and then Option 4.
If you do not know your ASB ID, you will find it on the card that you received along with your license. If you can’t locate your bar card, you may call the bar to obtain your ASB identification number. Please call (334) 269-1515 or (800) 354-6154 and ask for either Emily or Cathy Sue. Or you may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does this new requirement mean for me?
First, the most common misconception about this order is that registration for AlaFile requires Alabama lawyers to pay a monthly fee to Alacourt.com. There is no fee to use AlaFile, and you do not have to be a registered user of AlaCourt.com in order to use AlaFile.
Second, you are not required to use AlaFile for anything other than receiving notices from the courts, however, we strongly encourage you to do so, since efiling will provide great savings in time and money to the courts as well as to you and your firm. And right now we all need any savings we can find.
If you have not previously efiled and you would like training, you will find training tutorials on the AlaFile web site, or you may call the Administrative Office of Courts to find out when and where they will be holding live training.
For a more in-depth explanation of this new policy, here’s the information I got in an email from Griffin Sikes, Director of the Legal Division of the Administrative Office of Courts, on why the Chief Justice has taken this step now:
The Administrative Order requires in paragraph 4 that all members of the Alabama bar register for AlaFile. That registration is free, i.e., without charge to the registering lawyer.
Registration for AlaFile accomplishes several things, all of which benefit lawyers and the court system. More specifically, there are considerable savings in time, money, and resources that accrue to both lawyers and to the court system from e-filing.
First, looked at from the standpoint of the lawyer, AlaFile registration enables (but does not require) the registering lawyer to electronically file from their computer any pleading or document that could be paper-filed. By enabling a lawyer (or the lawyer’s paralegal/secretary) to file a pleading directly from his/her keyboard, the lawyer avoids the expense of printing out a paper copy, signing it, making paper copies, sending a runner or secretary to the courthouse to file the original paper pleading (or mailing or federal expressing the pleading), and then serving the other parties by identifying all of the persons to be served by mail with a copy, properly addressing envelopes to all counsel of record, making and placing the copies in envelopes, placing sufficient postage on each such envelope, and then mailing the copies.
Compare this process with that of e-filing through AlaFile: the lawyer or the lawyer’s assistant accesses AlaFile (without charge) from their law office computer and, without the necessity of ever printing or signing a paper original, electronically sends the “original” filing to the circuit clerk from his/her computer; the system then automatically, without requirement of any further action by the filing lawyer, electronically transmits service copies of that filing to all counsel of record in the case who have registered for AlaFile.
Second, looked at from the court system’s standpoint, the circuit clerk’s office also reaps significant benefits and savings from e-filing in that it greatly reduces the work of the clerk’s office staff. E-filing eliminates the following tasks that would have to be performed if a paper copy of the pleading was physically presented for filing in the Circuit Clerk’s office: receiving the paper copy of the filing; stamping it filed; locating the physical file in the clerk’s office; making an entry on the paper file’s case action summary noting the filing; electronically scanning the filed document into the court system’s statewide electronic database and electronically indexing the filing, so that the document is available online; placing the paper pleading in the correct file; and returning the physical court file to its correct location in the clerk’s office. For emphasis: none of these actions is required by the clerks’ office staff when a lawyer e-files a pleading from their office; rather, these actions or their equivalent are all performed automatically by the e-filing system.
And with e-filing, manual filing errors are eliminated, e.g., the pleading is not manually put in the wrong file, the case file is not manually put in the wrong location, the filing date is not incorrectly recorded, etc.
The above are among the savings in time, money and resources when the document flow is from the lawyer to the clerk’s office. Additional savings of time, money, and resources accrue when the flow is in the other direction—from the clerk’s office to the lawyer. For example, after a lawyer registers (without charge) for AlaFile, all orders and other notices of court actions in cases in which the lawyer is counsel of record are automatically e-mailed to the lawyer almost simultaneously with the entry of the order or other court action, thereby providing to the lawyer an electronic copy of the order or notice of court action (which document the lawyer can download and store in his computer file and/or print out as a paper copy) almost simultaneously with its filing or entry and usually several days to a week sooner than the lawyer would have received a mailed or otherwise delivered paper copy.
The court system also benefits in that without any effort by the circuit clerk, the lawyers who are counsel of record (whether the lawyer is across the street from the local courthouse or is in Omaha, Miami, or Seattle) are automatically electronically provided with service of all court orders or notices of court action without the clerk’s office having to identify all of the lawyers who are to get a copy, make the correct number of copies, address envelopes to each such lawyer, affix proper postage (the court system spent more than $2,000,000 for postage last year), and mail the paper copies to all counsel of record; or, as is the practice in many clerks’ offices, hand placing copies of the order/notice in each such local lawyer’s box at the clerk’s office for pick-up. Either of these means of delivery result in the lawyer getting notice of the order or court action perhaps as much as a week later, depending on how efficient the postal service is, how far the mailed notice has to travel by U.S. Mail, or the date on which the lawyer’s runner or other office staff makes a pick-up from the clerk’s office.
I think this initiative of the Chief Justice is a great idea in tough financial times, and I hope all the practicing lawyers of Alabama will help to make it work.