LexisNexis courts e-filing market

Information giant LexisNexis' pending acquisition of CourtLink Corp., a 12-year-old provider of online information services for the legal profession, has the potential to boost the electronic filing of legal documents from an oddity to standard procedure in courts nationwide, according to analysts.

LexisNexis announced Oct. 31 that it would acquire CourtLink, which already provides e-filing in 90 state and local courts in the United States, for an undisclosed amount.

LexisNexis, a division of Netherlands-based Reed Elsevier PLC, is one of the largest online providers of legal, business and news databases. Its federal customers include the Senate and the Treasury and Defense departments.

The LexisNexis alliance with CourtLink is particularly interesting, said Susan Feldman, director of content and retrieval software research for IDC, an information technology consulting firm in Framingham, Mass., "because LexisNexis owns so much of the legal search market, and they can use that in order to expand the demand."

Traditionally, filing a legal document with a court has been a time-consuming process, requiring attorneys to make paper copies, deliver the copies to the court in person or via messenger, and ship more copies to opposing counsel and other parties by overnight mail.

CourtLink's e-filing system currently charges attorneys a $2 transaction fee for filing a document, plus 10 cents per page for filing via the company's Web site. The system will notify other lawyers and parties and send them copies of the document via e-mail or fax for a small fee.

Readying a court system for electronic filing can be a lengthy process, said Craig Husa, CourtLink's senior vice president of court services. The court's administrative staff must be computer-savvy and have the proper hardware and software, a high-bandwidth connection to the Internet and workflow processes that can integrate electronic filing. Often, the court's rules of procedure must be amended to give electronic filing the appropriate legal imprimatur.

"When we work with the courts, there's often a recognition that e-filing is the future, but it's commonly difficult for them to know how to get from here to there. The way we've gotten to where we are today is by targeting big courts in specific areas," Husa said. "What we can now do with the backing of LexisNexis is to make a bigger splash."

Several courts with high caseloads — among them the Superior Court of the District of Columbia — recently began e-filing pilot programs, but the number of courts nationwide that offer such a system is still less than one in 50, said Ann Fullenkamp, LexisNexis' senior vice president for emerging markets. Fullenkamp will become chief operating officer of CourtLink after the departure next year of Henry Givray, the company's current chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Many courts aren't fully automated, and moving toward electronic document handling will require those courts to overhaul their hardware and software and train staff, Fullenkamp said.

CourtLink Corp. At a Glance

Founded in 1989, CourtLink has two key products:

* eAccess: Provides online access to more than 200 million court records in approximately 1,400 court systems in the United States.

* eFile: Provides electronic filing in 90 state and local courts.

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