Company hopes to capitalize on e-filing

Traipsing to the courthouse to pick up legal forms or using illegible photocopies may soon be passe. That's what a California company is banking on with its launch of a Web site boasting 40,000 federal and state court forms that people can fill out online.

The site, called U.S. CourtForms (www.uscourtforms.com), is the first step toward electronic filing with the courts, said Bill Bean, vice president of business development for the Encino-based American LegalNet Inc., which provides technology products and services to legal professionals. People would save time and money and become more efficient, he said.

"Everything begins with a form filing," he said. "Attorneys are filling out these forms day in and day out. And having the most current form in the most timely fashion makes all the difference in the world [with] whether or not you're going to succeed."

Available forms include civil, criminal, bankruptcy and other legal forms from federal, state and some county courts, and from some federal agencies, secretaries of state and several state bar associations. Bean said the forms are accurate right down to their typos.

"These are compliance-based documents. They have to be precise, right down to the misspelled word. [The courts] want this document [exact] right down to the font," he said.

Documents are accessible in Adobe Systems Inc.'s Portable Document Format (PDF), Microsoft Corp.'s Word and ScanSoft Inc.'s OmniForm Extensible Markup Language (XML) format. Interactive and non-interactive forms for the PDF and Word versions are available, but Bean said the XML format looks the most precise and is the most user-friendly. Fields to be filled out are highlighted in yellow, he said.

Users do not have to pay for non-interactive forms. Using an interactive form just once costs $5. Monthly subscriptions for unlimited use of interactive forms are $19 per state. Bean said most users, presumably attorneys, would subscribe to a state and the federal government, which would cost about $34 per month. There is a one-time $25 fee to cover software licensing.

By year's end, Bean said the company hoped to provide database connectivity to law firms for services such as scheduling and case management and then e-filing to the courts.

"In the next year and a half, more e-filing will be picked up by attorneys because it's just easier to do," he said. "People fall into the path of least resistance."

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