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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    February 01, 2017

    The Dog Can’t Eat Your Homework: 9 Benefits to E-filing

    The many advantages of filing electronically might convince you to make the switch from paper even before e-filing becomes mandatory in the Wisconsin counties in which you practice.

    Jennifer J. Collins

    dog ate me brief

    Wisconsin’s electronic filing (e-filing) rules went into effect July 1, 2016,1 and individual counties are beginning to switch to mandatory e-filing for civil, family, paternity, and small claims cases. Licensed Wisconsin lawyers (other than those representing themselves) are mandatory users under the new e-filing statute, and as courts transition to mandatory e-filing they will reject attempts at traditional filing by any mandatory user. E-filing is scheduled to become mandatory in 21 counties by the end of 2017, and it is optional in more than half of Wisconsin counties already. Rather than viewing these big changes as inconveniences or obstacles, law firms have plenty of reasons to embrace e-filing.

    1. Time Savings Are Immediate

    The days of mailing pleadings and a check to the clerk of courts, enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and waiting for the return mail are coming to a swift end. E-filed pleadings typically are authenticated and available for download within hours of e-filing. And as motion deadlines approach, e-filing can add a little extra time to a tight schedule. Section 801.18(4)(e) of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that “[a] document is considered filed on a particular day if the submission is completed by 11:59 p.m. Central Time, as recorded by the electronic filing system, so long as it is subsequently accepted by the clerk of court upon review.”

    Jennifer J. CollinsJennifer J. Collins, Marquette 2001, is an associate at Bass & Moglowsky S.C., Milwaukee.

    That section may sound like music to the procrastinator’s ears – certainly we all know lawyers who seem to perpetually be chasing 5 p.m. deadlines – but those last few words should give pause. To be considered timely, the document must not be rejected by the clerk, and rejections might be more likely than you’d anticipate. Incorrectly formatting an order or even improperly categorizing an uploaded document can result in a rejection. Proper time management is still a lawyer’s smartest course of action, but even the most organized may find themselves grateful to have those few extra hours now and again.

    2. Cost Reductions Are Real

    E-filing does come with an upfront cost in the form of a $20 convenience fee. This fee is paid when a new case is e-filed, and it is also demanded of a lawyer opting in as an electronic filer on an existing e-filed case.


    The fee might be easier to swallow when weighed against the cost savings realized over the life of the case. Aside from the initiating documents, which must be served traditionally, service of all subsequent documents on electronic parties is accomplished automatically and electronically when the court accepts the documents for filing.2 Reductions in amounts spent on paper and photocopying, postage, and envelopes and in the very real cost of the time involved in collating, mailing, and filing through traditional methods can add up to significant savings for the e-filer.

    (But don’t pack up that postage meter just yet – pro se litigants get a pass from e-filing even in counties where e-filing is mandatory and as such will still need to receive all documents in the traditional manner. We may never get away from mailing entirely, but e-filing promises a significant reduction on these always-rising costs).

    3. Mistakes Need Not Be Fatal if You Act Quickly

    The fear of making a mistake is a reason some lawyers give for their resistance to e-filing. A common misconception about e-filing is that all e-filed documents are instantly and permanently preserved in the record upon upload. Not so!

    Unlike an email message, which, once sent, can’t be taken back, there is always some delay associated with e-filing. All e-filed documents require manual approval, so if you discover that you have uploaded the wrong document or you find an embarrassing typo in your motion’s caption immediately after you’ve uploaded it, a quick call to the court requesting that the filed document be rejected is usually enough to save you from your error.

    4. E-filing Is a Springboard for Transition to an Electronic File System

    Many lawyers at paper-based firms may envision a day – a time somewhere out in that nebulous and unspecified future known as “someday” – when their offices eschew the towering banker boxes jammed with paper in favor of maintaining neat, convenient, and easily searchable electronic files for every case. But actually attaining that vision is challenging.

    E-filing can be a great catalyst for making the change. E-filing will require imaging all filed documents in a format acceptable for upload. In many cases, it will no longer make sense to keep a paper copy of every document. Firms can use e-filing to test the paperless-office waters one case at a time or as a springboard for a larger transformation of their practice.

    5. The Dog Can’t Eat the Court’s E-filed Homework

    As a court’s file for a case grows from an organized folder to a burgeoning pile of boxes, once in a blue moon an essential document – your brilliant brief or perfectly structured motion – may be misfiled or lost in the shuffle, forcing a harried clerk and frustrated judge to stop everything and search for the missing papers that you swear you filed. Papers are mislaid and misplaced, and even the most fastidious clerks and detail-oriented judges are only human. But in an e-filed case, an electronic copy of your motion is always just a few clicks away.

    6. Educate Yourself on Relevant Software

    Law firms are notorious for being technologically behind the curve because with few exceptions, lawyers’ work does not demand the latest and greatest software. The software requirements for e-filing are not particularly onerous, but they do demand compliance.

    Most e-filed documents must be uploaded in “portable document format,” more commonly known as PDF. While most lawyers use Adobe Acrobat casually for viewing PDF documents, features such as document combination and page extraction become quite useful in an e-filed case. Similarly, proposed orders must be submitted in Microsoft Word format, making a brief Word refresher quite useful for infrequent users of the program. Just as time is money, proficiency is efficiency. If your firm hasn’t implemented a policy on software updates and education, perhaps this is the time and reason to do so.

    7. E-filing Offers Immediate Access to the Court’s File

    Did you notice an entry on CCAP that doesn’t gel with your own records of your case? Did a fax from a pro se litigant come without all promised pages?

    Instead of calling the court to request a faxed copy (and perhaps finding out that the court will only mail a copy of the document upon receipt of your check for the photocopying charge), you can instantly access all imaged documents in the court’s file because of e-filing. Simply log in to the e-filing system, access your case, and locate the document. It can be on your screen in a matter of minutes. Even paper-filed pro se pleadings will be scanned by the court and available for download through the e-filing system.

    8. E-filing Educational Opportunities Abound

    As counties transition to mandatory e-filing, CCAP personnel will be available for training and e-filing practice to help lawyers and their employees familiarize themselves with the process before they begin implementing e-filing in their own offices. Before each county’s transition to mandatory e-filing, attorneys with open cases in that county will receive a list of dates and times when CCAP staff will be available to help navigate e-filing.

    Additional assistance is available online: CCAP maintains a thorough Frequently Asked Questions page3 pertaining to e-filing matters and a live-chat help feature, and it posts ongoing announcements about e-filing on its Twitter account.4 Finally, the State Bar of Wisconsin offers an on-demand CLE seminar, “To eFile or Not to eFile? It’s No Longer a Question,” which addresses many practical issues associated with e-filing.

    9. We’re All in This Together

    Does the switch to electronic filing feel overwhelming? Confusing? Are you struggling with document formats, file types, and imaged exhibits in this new e-filing world? The good news is that you aren’t alone. Other lawyers and, yes, even the courts are still working through all the nuances of e-filing. At this stage, the only dumb question is the one you were afraid to ask.

    Basically, You Don’t Have Much Choice

    Electronic filing is happening whether you want it to or not, and unless your plans include retirement before the end of 2017, if you practice in family or civil court you are going to have to learn how to e-file your documents. So why not embrace the change?

    Meet Our Contributors

    What’s the best career advice you ever received?

    Jennifer J. CollinsMy favorite piece of career advice is actually great advice for anyone wanting to accomplish a big goal of any kind: no more zero days.

    Whatever your big dream may be, do something every single day to further that dream. It can be a small thing, and on most days it very well may be just a small thing. But never end a day on a zero.

    So if your dream is to write a book, then every day put 100 words on paper before the sun sets. Eventually you’ll have a first draft. Want to learn a new language? Learn five new words before bed. In a few months, you’ll have a nice-sized vocabulary. Trying to get into shape? Walk 100 more steps today or do one more pushup today than you did yesterday.

    This advice translates well to careers, too. Pick a skill (or, better yet, a weakness), focus on it, and chip away at it day by day until you master it.

    When you decide to have no more zero days, real progress happens.

    Jennifer J. Collins, Bass & Moglowsky S.C., Milwaukee.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.


    1 Wis. Stat. § 801.18.

    2 Wis. Stat. § 801.18(6)(a). But see Wis. Stat. § 801.18(6)(b).



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