A Publication of WTVP

The State of Illinois ushers in new electronic filing for all court cases.

Filing hard-copy or original paper court documents in civil cases is nearly a thing of the past in the Land of Lincoln. On January 22, 2016, when the Illinois Supreme Court announced mandatory electronic filing (e-filing) for all civil cases in the Illinois courts, reactions varied from skepticism to excitement to downright fear. Circuit clerks, attorneys and even judges across the state wondered exactly how this could possibly work. The 2016 order required e-filing through a single, centralized electronic filing manager called eFileIL. The new system mandated dates for the implementation of eFileIL and included integration with each court’s case management system.

Even as the new e-file test drive was underway, the Supreme Court understood adjustments were necessary. On May 30, 2017, it amended the original 2016 order to further facilitate the Illinois courts’ statewide move to an electronic filing system. The amended order addressed certain fees for e-filing, exempted pro se litigants that were incarcerated, furthered the migration of counties with standalone e-filing systems, allowed for paper and electronic filing for criminal cases, and included the implementation of a statewide remote access system.

With objectives like this, the Illinois court system should eventually see dramatic improvements with regard to both the efficiency of filings and the access of documents. Moreover, it appears that Illinois courts are already seeing some of those benefits. In May 2018 alone, eFileIL had more than 250,000 filings and reached over 73,500 registered users.

The Times They Are A-Changin’
While the Illinois Supreme Court introduced an e-filing system all the way back in 2002, there is still a lack of homogeny with e-filing systems throughout the state. Prior to the 2016 order, certain counties had pre-existing e-filing systems which now have to be consolidated or converted into the new system. Additionally, with every county experiencing different caseloads, it has become apparent that the transition will be smoother for some than it will be for others. This is evidenced by the fact that Cook, DuPage and Winnebago counties have already asked for (and received) extensions—after much litigation, of course—from the original implementation date. Furthermore, numerous other counties have requested extensions which were either denied in part or flat out struck down. Thus, as counties work to convert, it has become increasingly clear that there will be setbacks throughout the process.

For attorneys who appear in different courts throughout the state, the pitfalls of this transition are even more pronounced. Some courts have yet to publish their guidelines for e-filing, which makes a complicated process even more difficult. Other counties are still working to get their systems up-to-date, which can lead to various questions upon a simple search for cases. These issues don’t even take into account that judges are still acquainting themselves with the system. This unfamiliarity can lead to judges requesting that documents be submitted to them in a very precise way. Attorneys (as well as those brave enough to litigate on their own) now must also navigate the filing rules of the court they are in, as well as the particularities of the individual judge.

As the Illinois Supreme Court recognized, e-filing is the way of the future and it is here to stay. But like all technology in its relative infancy, it has a ways to go to reach its full potential. While attorneys, courts and circuit clerks alike will undoubtedly experience the challenges of the system, the benefits will eventually outweigh the detriments. As evidenced by the 13,333 filings uploaded to eFileIL on June 4, 2018 alone, the days of physical, hard-copy paper filing in courtrooms across the state are nearly gone.

E-Filing Plays in Peoria
Arguably, nowhere else in the state has there been as seamless a transition to e-filing as there has been in the Peoria area. In Peoria County, the legal community has embraced the new system. Judges have worked with lawyers to accommodate the transition, and law firms have trained their support staffs to alleviate any potential confusion. Additionally, the Peoria County Circuit Clerk’s website has a well-designed, concise webpage that makes it easy for both attorneys and non-attorneys alike to navigate the e-file process. Ultimately, Peoria has demonstrated that e-filing can be both beneficial and efficient in mid-to-large-sized legal markets. Like many things that came before, e-filing plays in Peoria. iBi