ABINGDON–Virginia lawyers may soon get a glimpse of what is promised to be a simple and centralized system for electronic filing in the state courts.
Virginia Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. drew applause when he told a roomful of lawyers the state’s planned electronic filing system will be lawyer-friendly. “It’s going to be available to a lawyer who hates computers,” Hassell said.
Hassell said the court hopes to have a pilot e-filing system up and running in the courts of Norfolk in a year.
Nevertheless, Hassell said court officials would move “slowly and methodically” to implement e-filing throughout the rest of the state. “We are not going to roll out this program around the state until we have achieved perfection in Norfolk,” he said.
The system is needed, Hassell said, to make sure lawyers know when orders are entered that trigger deadlines. “You would be amazed at the number of lawyers who find themselves facing a malpractice action because an order was entered and time began to run, but no one bothered to tell the lawyer the order was entered,” Hassell said. “As Chris Rock would say, ‘That just ain’t right,’” he quipped.
Hassell said he was surprised to learn some court clerks will not send copies of orders to counsel of record unless provided with a prepaid envelope.
Hassell said the e-filing system will be discretionary at first, but later could be considered mandatory, if only because nearly all lawyers will be using it. “Eventually, probably by default, it will be mandatory,” Hassell said, speaking at what was billed as a “town hall meeting” at a forum for solo and small-firm practitioners in Abingdon.
Hassell noted that the court has been authorized to impose a fee for use of the e-filing system, but he promised the fee would be reasonable. “I recognize more than most how awful this economy is for us as lawyers,” he said. Hassell again won applause when he pledged that the e-filing system will operate as a reduction in costs for lawyers.
Hassell said lawyers’ accounts would be centralized, without the need to set up separate accounts at various courts around the state. He also said that nearly all court filings would be available to the public.
By Peter Vieth