Texas studies online legal filings

Texas attorneys and individual filers of legal documents will be able to send their documents to county courts electronically by the end of October, as part of a pilot study that could lead to development of a statewide online filing system within the next three years.

The pilot project initially will make online filing available to the legal community in Bexar County, an area that includes the city of San Antonio. After a couple of months, during which the initial feasibility of the system will be tested, "the spigot will be turned on slowly," and more firms and counties will be brought on board, said Reagan Greer, the district clerk of Bexar County.

Up to 10 counties could be involved in the pilot project during its expected length of two years, he said.

The study will use the official state portal TexasOnline (www.TexasOnline.com), and filers will be able to select from several service providers through which to send their documents. Counties will be allowed to choose their own internal case and document management systems.

The service provider will pass documents through the TexasOnline electronic "post office" to the clerk of the court, who will then pass "stamps" back to the filer acknowledging receipt of the forms. Passwords and personal identification numbers that the filers select when they first register on the system will be used as electronic signatures for the documents.

"It offers obvious savings for the court system," Greer said, "and attorneys are excited because they see it as a saving to the public. They bill by the hour, and this will save them the time it takes for someone to hand carry the documents to the court."

The pilot project took two years to set up after the request for proposals was first published, he said. Most of that time was taken up by establishing the rules for filing the documents, as well as defining the terms that would be used by the system. Another big problem was finding the money to pay for the study.

KPMG Consulting Inc., which helped establish TexasOnline in partnership with the state government, will provide the $6.4 million needed, Greer said, as well as the state-of-the-art security that will surround the online project.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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