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February 2012

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


CM/ECF Next Gen Enters New Phase

The Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, the envy of court systems worldwide for more than a decade, reaches an important milestone in early 2012 as the requirements-gathering phase for its Next Generation concludes.

Judges and court staff nationwide have worked with the Administrative Office (AO) for more than two years to identify greater efficiencies and define new functional requirements. Still ahead are design, coding, testing, and implementation phases.

“Next Gen is perhaps the largest-scope project ever undertaken by the Administrative Office and court community,” said Judge Julie Robinson (D. Kan.), chair of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management. “There is extensive involvement of the court community, in numbers of people participating, and in the depth and significance of their work and contributions.”

Robinson said more than 50 AO staff members have been working, many of them nearly full-time, on the labor-intensive first phase of Next Gen. She added that more than 150 judges, law clerks, clerks of court, information technology staff, and other court employees from all court types have devoted significant hours. The number of people working on Next Gen on a daily basis will shrink during the design phase, “but there will continue to be substantial personnel and resources devoted to the project,” Robinson said.

“The cooperation between the AO and court community has been phenomenal,” she said. “They have collaborated every step of the way, through the labor-intensive phase of defining functional requirements. And this collaboration will continue through the design phase, as we all work to ensure that the work of those who defined the functional requirements will be translated into the design of CM/ECF’s Next Gen.”

More than 400 requirements were identified by members of the bankruptcy, district, and appellate court chambers’ requirements groups, drawing more than 6,000 comments from the courts. The project also has received input from non-court representatives from the bar, academia, government agencies, and other organizations.

Continuous enhancements have been made to the existing CM/ECF system since the prototype versions were introduced in 1995. The system currently is used in all district, bankruptcy, and regional courts of appeal, in the Court of Federal Claims, the Court of International Trade, and by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

Nearly six million docket entries are made on CM/ECF each month, and virtually all courts now accept or require electronic filings. In those courts, 51 percent of all docket entries are made by attorneys, not court staff, resulting in cost containment and savings.

More than 600,000 attorneys have filed case documents using CM/ECF, and attorneys currently are filing nearly 2.5 million documents via the Internet each month. In bankruptcy courts, attorneys now perform over 90 percent of all case-opening work.

Robinson said all CM/ECF users will notice the enhancements when Next Gen is implemented. “This product will include improved functionality for external filers and other external users of the system,” she said. (Members of the public can access federal court files remotely via the Judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, service. You can learn more about PACER at www.pacer.uscourts.gov.)

“The improvements will be based on the functional requirements defined by a large and diverse group of external users, under the capable leadership of Bankruptcy Judge Rich Leonard [E.D. N.C.]. We expect improvements such as a single sign-on capability, so that external users will not have to sign on repeatedly as they access different courts’ sites,” Robinson said. “We also expect a search functionality that will greatly assist the external users.”

Basic goals for Next Gen included greater integration among the district, bankruptcy, and appellate versions of CM/ECF, shared data with other Judiciary systems, more streamlined processes, greater consistency (especially for external users), enhanced case management functionality for chambers, and greater efficiency through use of new tools and technology.