As paralegals, part of our job is to e-file documents with the courts. Of course, one of the reasons clients retain attorneys in the divorce process (or any legal process, really) is the convenience of being able to rely on the attorney or firm staff to contact courts, or e-file documents on the behalf of clients. The content of this Tools of the Trade is centered on e-filing through the paralegal's lens.
Paralegals must always be sure they are filing documents in the correct format. Typically, any briefs or party pleadings are filed as PDF documents. Similarly, any certificates, notices, admitted trial exhibits, etc. are generally filed as PDF documents. Proposed Orders of any kind, though, are to be filed as Word documents, as the idea is for the court to edit the proposal and then enter it as a (PDF) order of its own. It is also extremely important to carefully read the Case Management Order (CMO) in every case as the court may require certain file formats throughout the case that are different from typical practice. For example, it is common for courts in Colorado to request any asset/debt spreadsheets related to separation agreements be filed in the original excel format, rather than submitting those documents as converted PDFs. A less common example is a court requesting a Joint Trial Management Certificate (JTMC) - a document that is signed by the attorneys on the case - to be filed as a Word document rather than as a PDF, which would of course be more standard for a hand-signed JTMC. Carefully reviewing CMOs and taking diligent notes regarding the required format of certain documents (and deadlines!) will protect you from rejected filings and wasted time refiling.
It is important for paralegals to be up to date on any court rules that govern the formatting of documents. In Colorado, the governing rule is C.R.C.P. Rule 10. Court rules will determine which documents are single spaced vs. double spaced, the formatting of case captions, general rules regarding paper size, format and spacing, and other miscellaneous provisions regarding formatting. In my experience, courts vary in leniency when it comes to accepting or rejecting documents with formatting errors. You should quickly get a feel for which counties are more or less lenient with formatting as you work on cases in different counties. However, it is best practice to alter formatting procedures in your practice to proactively avoid any rejected filings. It is important to note that often language regarding formatting is somewhat ambiguous. If, by chance, there is an attached image of preferred formatting you should always mimic the preferred image as standard practice for your firm. If filing something on deadline is an issue, and there is a dispute about the preferred formatting of a certain type of pleading, it may be worth a quick call the clerk to clarify before filing.
Certificate of Service
By now, e-filing documents is standard practice. Like most other things in our lives, technology has advanced efficiency in the legal process. Perhaps the most efficient piece of e-filing document is being able to serve appropriate parties with legal documents electronically. With this, though, comes added weight to the Certificate of Service that is included on most documents e-filed with the court. Paralegals are often the ones filing documents with the court and therefore are the ones swearing to the court said document has been served to the appropriate parties. Failure to serve documents not only is bad practice, but it can open your client (and your firm) up to serious issues in the future. You have got to make sure the method of service included in the COS is accurate, and that the documents being e-filed are actually served via the same method. If for example, your attorney prefers to serve pro se parties through US Mail directly from the office, the COS should not include any language about e-service. Further, if there are any third parties entered as intervenors in a case, it is the paralegal's job to make sure those third-parties are being served. For example, in family law it is fairly common for child-support enforcement offices or parenting coordinators/decision-makers to be entered in on the online case file with the court. It is imperative these third-parties are being served documents and that the COS reflects same.
E-filing has also expanded opportunities for case management strategy. One of the best features of e-filing is the ability to "delay file" documents. This is particularly useful for discovery and witness disclosure deadlines, when you know you are prepared and are going to meet the deadlines. The process of delay filing is the same as regularly filing documents, however you are able to edit the time of submission so as to provide that it be submitted later at night, or earlier in the morning, or during times that you know you will not be in the office.
E-Filing in document management software
After a final version of a document is filed with the court, it is important to make sure the final version is uploaded into the client's electronic file. Essentially, you'll want to keep the final word version and final PDF version of every document filed in a client's case in an electronic file for future reference, or for file transfer/destruction purposes. While your client should be receiving court filings for their records via email, it is the paralegal's job to maintain an updated electronic file in the event the client requests their file at the end of their case or following your firm's withdrawal from the case.