Electronic Case Filing - FAQ

April 18, 2000

1. What is the electronic case file (ECF) project?
2. What are the benefits and features of using ECF?
3. Where is ECF available?
4. Are there ECF prototypes in the District Courts as well?
5. Who "owns" ECF?
6. Can any member of the public use ECF to file documents with the court?
7. Since access is limited to authorized attorneys, is there any way for pro se filers or attorneys without Internet access to file documents in ECF cases?
8. What hardware/software is needed on the attorney's end to use ECF?
9. What is Adobe Acrobat?
10. How is payment of filing fees handled for ECF cases?
11. How do I set up a credit card account to be used for ECF cases?
12. How is the requirement of an original signature (attorney and/or debtor) handled for ECF cases?
13. Can an attorney authorize someone in their office (such as a paralegal) to use their login name and password to file documents in ECF?

General Questions

1. What is the electronic case file (ECF) project?

ECF is a prototype project that allows attorneys to file petitions and other electronic documents with designated United States courts through the Internet by using a standard web browser. This results in a completely electronic "case file" that does not have any papers associated with it at the court. Therefore, all case information is available for examination electronically through the Internet, again through the use of a standard web browser. It is our expectation that ECF will eventually replace the court's current automation system and will become the primary method for filing documents with the court and for receiving case information from the court.

2. What are the benefits and features of using ECF?

There are a number of significant benefits and features:

a) registered attorneys are able to file documents with the court 24 hours per day, 7 days per week,

b) full case information is available to attorneys, parties and the general public through the Internet. This includes the ability to view the full text of all filed documents,

c) attorneys on the system will receive notices electronically in ECF cases,

d) those attorneys who participate in ECF during the developmental stages have the opportunity to help shape its development,

e) since the project uses Internet standard software, the out-of-pocket cost of participation for attorneys is typically very low, and

f) currently there are no additional fees charged by the federal judiciary for this service; however, a user fee, approved by the Judicial conference of the United States, may be applied in the future.

3. Where is ECF available?

At the present time, ECF is a functioning project in five of the 90 federal bankruptcy courts. Those five are: Virginia Eastern, New York Southern, Georgia Northern, Arizona and California Southern.

4. Are there ECF prototypes in the District Courts as well?

Yes. Four federal district courts currently are assisting in the development of a version of ECF for civil cases. They are: Ohio Northern, Missouri Eastern, Oregon and New York Eastern. At present, there is no version for criminal or appellate cases. Also, the Fourth and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeals recently were designated as prototype courts. An appellate version of ECF is under development.

5. Who "owns" ECF?

ECF is the key automation project in the federal judiciary. The prototype courts are consulted for recommendations. All software development for the project is done centrally, by employees of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in Washington, DC.

6. Can any member of the public use ECF to file documents with a court?

No. Access to ECF is available to authorized attorneys only.

7. Since access is limited to authorized attorneys, is there any way for pro se filers or attorneys without Internet access to file documents in ECF cases?

Yes, there is. An attorney with a computer (Windows or Macintosh) that can save documents in PDF can save the documents on a diskette and file the computer diskette with the court.

An attorney who has a computer but not Adobe Acrobat can save documents either in Microsoft Word or WordPerfect format and file the computer diskette with the court. The court then would convert those files to PDF and upload them into ECF.

The system also is capable of accepting paper input from pro se filers and others as necessary. In that case, the court would convert the papers to electronic format by scanning and then adding the scanned image into the ECF system.

8. What hardware/software is needed on the attorney's end to use ECF?

You need to have access to the Internet (world wide web), Netscape Navigator version 4.7 or higher, and Adobe Acrobat Exchange. (Support for Microsoft's Internet Explorer is expected later.) If you use a modem to connect to your Internet service provider, we recommend one with a speed of at least 56k. We would further like to recommend the use of a DSL or cable modem line in lieu of a standard telephone line.

Due to security needs, a session only can be established using Netscape Navigator 4.7 or higher. DO NOT USE America On Line's version of Netscape Navigator, or a version of Netscape Navigator lower than 4.7.

9. What is Adobe Acrobat?

Adobe Acrobat Exchange is commercial software from Adobe that allows you to save your documents in PDF (portable document format). All documents filed in ECF must be in PDF format. Acrobat Exchange is available from commercial software retailers for approximately $200 - $300. Adobe also distributes a program called Acrobat Reader that allows you to view and print (but not create) PDF documents. The reader is available for free download from www.adobe.com.

Note: Attorneys can purchase a specially-priced copy of Adobe Acrobat Exchange 4.0 for $129.00 by calling 1-888-502-5275. If you already have a copy of Adobe Acrobat 3.0, you may purchase an upgrade to 4.0 by calling the same number for $99.00, although 4.0 is not necessary to file documents in ECF at this time.

10. How is payment of filing fees handled for ECF cases?

Registered Users: For filings that require a fee, application for authorization of credit card payment must have been mailed or delivered to the divisional office where the attorney most frequently practices. That divisional office will retain the original credit card application form and provide copies to the other applicable divisions. Note: At this time we only can accept MasterCard or Visa.

Non-Registered Users: For filings that require a fee, current rules for methods of payments must be followed.

11. How do I set up a credit card account to be used for ECF cases?

Internally, attorneys may choose to open either a personal or business credit card specifically used for filing fees.

If a personal credit card is used, some attorneys have opted to take the money from their client trust account and pay directly to a holding account until the credit card bill comes due.

If a business credit card is used, some attorneys simply leave the money collected for the filing fee in their client trust account until the credit card bill comes due.

The following are some suggestions from members of the bar on using credit cards for the payment of filing fees:

12. How is the requirement of an original signature (attorney and/or debtor) handled for ECF cases?

There are two somewhat distinct issues: attorney signatures and debtor signatures.

When registering to use the system, attorneys sign an agreement to the effect that use of their login name and password (whether by themselves personally or by delegation to another person in their office) constitutes their signatures on the documents electronically filed. (see EDVA Standing Order re ECF, Administrative Procedures, Section I, C)

For documents that must be signed by the debtor (such as petitions, lists, schedules, statements, etc.), originally executed paper copies must be kept by the debtor's attorney for five years. The electronically filed document will indicate a signature, e.g. "/s/ Jane Doe". (see EDVA Standing Order re ECF, Administrative Procedures, Section II, C)

13. Can an attorney authorize someone in the attorney's office (such as a paralegal) to use the attorney's login name and password to file documents in ECF?

Yes, but the court recommends that such access be very limited and controlled since whatever is filed under that name and password is deemed to have the attorney's signature on it.