On Dec. 1, 2014, eCourt became mandatory in 11 counties in Oregon: Yamhill, Crook, Jefferson, Linn, Jackson, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Benton, Polk and Multnomah. As this article goes to press, Douglas, Josephine and Marion counties are next in the implementation queue.
For practitioners who are accustomed to electronic filing in the federal system, the transition to Oregon eCourt and mandatory eFiling will be relatively painless. Filers in the federal system are already familiar with converting documents to PDF, conforming signatures and entering party information using an electronic filing system.
For nonfederal court practitioners, the conversion to Oregon eCourt is more daunting. Here are some practice tips to ease the transition:
Steps to Get eCourt Ready
Get a Debit/Credit Card to Pay eCourt Fees
Get a credit or debit card that can be used to pay court fees online. The Odyssey eFile and Serve System accepts Visa, MasterCard and Discover. Learn more about eCourt filing fees by reading “eCourt Filing Fees and IOLTA,” available on the Professional Liability Fund website, www.osbplf.org. Select Forms, and then choose the eCourt category. Additional eCourt resources can be found at this location as well.
Create an eCourt Account
Create an eCourt account by registering with Odyssey eFile and Serve at https://oregon.tylerhost.net/ Registration only involves a few steps. Choose an account type, enter your name, contact information and email address, then create a password. Sole practitioners should register as a “Firm Administrator.” If you need assistance setting up your account, contact Odyssey eFile and Serve Technical Support at the support number noted below. (See Troubleshooting.)
Check your email inbox for an activation link from @tyler host.net. Click on the activation link to finish creating your account. (“Whitelist” tylerhost.net as a safe sender and/or domain name in your spam filters.)
Then log in to Odyssey eFile and Serve with your email address and newly created password, click on the Firm Administrator tab, and set up a payment account using your credit or debit card information. (Note: if you are a firm member who created an individual user account, this step was completed by your firm administrator.)
Purchase the Necessary Hardware and Software
Next, you’ll need to check your technology. To be an eFiler, you will need a scanner, conversion software and OCR software. The hardware and software requirements are summarized on the OSB website at www.osbar.org/courts/efiling.html and are detailed below.
Learn Before Filing
Sign up for one of the free, one-hour training sessions on how to use Odyssey eFile and Serve. A complete class listing is available online here: http://bit.ly/1xXmbZy. You can ask questions during the session, and you may take the training as many times as you want.
Watch the Oregon ecourt update presented on Nov. 19, 2014 — available for Oregon lawyers to stream or download free of charge on the PLF website, www.osbplf.org. Select CLE, then Past CLE. This jointly sponsored OSB CLE/PLF program provides an overview of the Uniform Trial Court Rules (UTCRs) and includes a question-and-answer session with Oregon Judicial Department staff.
Get an OJCIN Account to Access eCourt Documents
Get an OJCIN Account. OJCIN includes OJIN, OECI and ACMS. If you want online access to electronically filed documents or wish to view the Register of Actions for entry dates of judgments or orders (called “created dates” in the OECI system), you must have an OJCIN account. Subscriptions are $35 per month.
Stay Current with Developments
Monitor the OSB and PLF websites for developments. Updates from the OSB may be found here: www.osbar.org/courts/efiling.html. The PLF uses a variety of sources to keep lawyers informed, including articles in the PLF In Brief, practice alerts and practice management forms.
Purchasing a Scanner
All eCourt filers will need a scanner for pages or documents that contain ink signatures, such as an affidavit signed by your client. (Lawyers “sign” eCourt documents by using a conformed signature: s/ Lawyer Name.)
A scanner is also needed to create digital copies of attachments to pleadings (e.g., a scanned copy of a last will and testament attached to a petition for probate). A digital copy of the will is eFiled with the petition; the original will must be filed conventionally with the court within seven days of eFiling the petition.
Practice Tip:When you conventionally file documents like an original will, include a cover letter or note to the court clerk with the proper case name and number. Otherwise, the clerk won’t be able to identify the case associated with your original document.
Mac users can search for “top rated scanners” at MacWorld. If you have the Windows operating system, check out the online reviews at PC Magazine. The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 was voted the best scanner of the year in 2013 by MacWorld and comes bundled with Acrobat XI Standard for Windows. You can — and should — upgrade to Acrobat XI Pro for the reasons noted below.
A multifunction printer/scanner/copier may also be a good choice depending on your needs. One popular brand is Brother: www.brother-usa.com/MFC/, but check the sources listed above for product reviews of these all-in-one devices.
When you’ve chosen a scanner make and model, use sites or apps like PriceGrabber, and Google Shopping, to find the best prices. For the best head-to-head comparison, include shipping costs. If a deal seems too good to be true, it may be. Only buy from reputable, well-known sources.
Purchasing PDF Conversion Software with OCR Capability
All documents submitted via the eCourt system must be text-searchable PDFs. PDF conversion software with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capability turns your scanned documents into text-searchable PDFs. The free Adobe Reader software cannot do this. While it is possible to use separate PDF and OCR products, it is more efficient to find a program that performs both functions.
For PDF conversion software, nothing beats Adobe Acrobat XI. While it may seem that you have no choice but to subscribe to Acrobat on a monthly basis, you can still purchase the product outright. Call sales at (800) 585-0774 or visit www.adobe.com/products/acrobatpro.html for details. A subscription to Acrobat XI Pro is $19.99 per month. Subscriptions are locked in for one year and include all upgrades free of charge plus free telephone support. If you purchase Acrobat XI Pro outright, you must buy upgrades separately. Free telephone support ends in 30 days, although other support options remain available.
Use PDF/OCR software to: create searchable PDFs of scanned pleading documents; create searchable PDFs of scanned attachments to pleading documents; and create searchable PDFs of scanned signature pages or signed documents. (Text on the page will be searchable; signatures will not.)
As noted above, lawyers sign eCourt documents using a conformed signature: s/ Lawyer Name. If you are eFiling a document containing signatures other than your own, you must scan the signature page or the entire document, then OCR before eFiling.
Mastering the Tech to Make Your Life Easier
Convert to PDF Directly from a Word Processing Application
When you convert to PDF directly from Word, WordPerfect or OpenOffice, your document is automatically text searchable. There is no need to print and scan your document, convert it to PDF and OCR it.
Printing to PDF Automatically Scrubs Metadata and Reduces File Size
When you install PDF software, a PDF printer is created in your printer list. Choose File > Print > to create a PDF from your word processing program. Follow these steps: select File > Print; find the PDF printer in your printer list (Adobe PDF, for example); click Print; give your document a name; and save it in the desired location. When you create a PDF by selecting File > Save As > PDF or by selecting File > Publish to PDF, the metadata in your word processing document is converted into metadata in your PDF. (This is avoidable only if you scrub the metadata first.) Additionally, files that are “published” to PDF are about 80 percent larger than documents that are “printed” to PDF. To learn more about metadata and metadata removal, order the PLF CLE “Metadata: Complying with Oregon Formal Opinion 2011-187” from the PLF website. Select CLE, then Past CLE.
Digital Pleading Templates Save Time and Money
Digital pleading templates are the way to go. If you are printing the body of your document on numbered pleading paper, you will need to scan and OCR your documents for eFiling. A digital pleading template saves this step — the pleading numbers and footer with your name, address, bar number, etc. are part of the document. If you are not familiar with digital pleading templates, check out these options from Microsoft: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/?CTT=97. WordPerfect users can read about pleading templates and macros here: http://bit.ly/1Cfgw0C and here: http://corl.co/1IHl5Tv. Be sure to conform all templates to meet Oregon court rules. Assistance with pleading templates is available from the PLF practice management advisers: https://www.osbplf.org/practice-management/practice-management-advisors.html.
Submitting Your First eCourt Filing
Manage the stress and anxiety of your first eCourt filing by taking these steps:
First, give yourself extra time. Until you become familiar with the eFiling system, the first filing or two might be a little nerve-wracking. Give yourself a cushion of extra time. Don’t create pressure by waiting until the deadline date to file a document. If your filing is rejected, you will need to seek relation back to cure the missed deadline.
Instead, file well in advance. If your filing is rejected, you will have time to fix the problem and refile. And you will spare yourself unnecessary anxiety.
Second, file during business hours when support is available. The Odyssey eFile and Serve system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While it may be tempting to submit a filing at 10 p.m. Friday night, technical support staff are not available to assist you if something goes awry. File during regular business hours when Odyssey eFile and Serve Technical Support from Tyler Technologies can assist you.
Technical Support can walk you through initiating a new filing, filing into an existing case and eServing parties in a case. Technical support can also use “GoToAssist” to take control of your computer and help you complete an eFiling. Keep the support number handy (800) 297-5377, and don’t hesitate to use it.
Last but not least, reach out to experienced colleagues. If you know a colleague who has used the Odyssey eFile and Serve system, ask for pointers. eCourt is live in about one-third of all Oregon circuit courts and has been implemented in a handful of other counties for almost two years; practitioners there may be able to answer questions or act as a resource. If you don’t know of someone who has personally used the system, posting to an OSB listserv or contacting a resource lawyer through the Oregon State Bar Lawyer-to-Lawyer program (Lawyer Referral and Information Services, www.osbar.org). may be an option. (Note: eCourt is not a specific resource category in the Lawyer-to-Lawyer program, but General Litigation is.)
Don’t struggle on your own! Call Odyssey eFile and Serve free technical support at (800) 297-5377, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central Time (5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time). In addition to the assistance described above, technical support can help with browser error messages, registering your account and payment account troubleshooting.
As this article goes to print, there is a known issue with Nuance Power PDF Advanced (Nuance), one of the PDF programs mentioned above. When a judge attempts to sign a PDF created with Nuance, the signature jumps to the top of the document or off the page. Presently, the best workaround is to save documents as a PDF/A before filing. This appears to overcome the conflict with the court’s signing software.
PDF/A is a special file format defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is used for long-term archiving of electronic documents. You can read more about filing documents in PDF/A format at the “Acrobat for Legal Professionals” blog written by Rick Borstein: http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/category/pdfa-pdf-for-archiving/.
It is worth noting that Nuance works well in every other respect for converting and filing PDFs in the eCourt system. Oregon Judicial Department staff are aware of the signing issue and are working with the vendor to resolve it.
Using the Knowledge Base
You can find quite a bit of useful information in the Odyssey eFile and Serve Knowledge Base, which is divided into these categories: Administration, Court Contact, eFiling, eService, Notifications, and Support and Training.
Under Administration, learn about attorney management, fees, firm information, passwords, payment accounts, reconciliation, registration and user management. Under Court Contact, find telephone numbers and other contact information for some of the courts, including Multnomah, Yamhill, Crook and Clatsop Counties. eFiling provides information on the active locations for eCourt and describes the filing process, document status and how to create templates in the eFiling workspace. Under eService, read answers to commonly asked questions, such as, Where do I find proof of service for a filing I submitted? (Also see Notifications.) Access the Knowledge Base at http://content.tylerhost.net/helpor/selfhelp/national.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is a practice management adviser with the OSB Professional Liability Fund. She blogs at http://oregonlawpracticemanagement.com/ and can be reached at (503) 639-6911 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2015 Beverly Michaelis