Efiling: Tips, Tricks, and Conspiracy, and a primer on creating (free-ish) Text-Searchable PDFS

Image result for efile texasI really don't like efiling.  I do not think I am alone. I laud the clerks and technicians who have spend countless hours getting trained, working out the bugs, and helping me when my document was not "text searchable" or "submitted as a secondary lead document, not an attachment."

For those of you who are not so inclined, Texas has gone to a mandatory, paperless "electronic filing" system commonly known as e-file, starting in the big counties in 2012 and now rolling through us smaller burgs.  It should be great: reduce paper, increase efficiency, seamless interface.  Except it is not any of those things, yet.

Paper Reduction:

I use as much, if not more paper than before. (Disclaimer, I am an avid recycler, lover of trees, and I majored in environmental science in college: I am all for anything that reduces waste). Sadly the legal business is a paper heavy business, and we essentially sell documents. So, it really doesn't help there. Clients want paper, not just an email attachment. Deeds still require paper, and electronic signatures are not ubiquitous yet.

I can, however, see some courts that are completely paperless (Collin County is pretty good) reducing their physical storage requirements, and only printing off final orders upon request. I'm ok with that, but if you don't store physical paper...you have to store it electronically. This should be great, if there was access to these public records. There is, but you have to pay for it.  It would cost my firm $180 annually, just for Collin County.

Increased Efficiency:

The most common response when I asked the clerks and other representatives about why we were required to E-File,  was "it will save you so much time."  Yes, in theory, it has saved me a trip or two to the local courthouse, and it is nice when filing in another county to not have to drive an hour down to the lovely Dallas County courthouse, pay for parking, etc.

Just like the advent of the computer word processor, less time doing the actual tasks required for lawyering should result in more efficiency, but the only person who gets the benefit there are the clients. As a member of society who has paid a lawyer, this is a good thing. As a lawyer who tries to get paid, this is time I would have normally billed a client for travel and filing, which is much more legitimate than "spent 2 hours trying to make pdf document small enough and text searchable, after getting filing rejected by E-file."  I don't think that is a fair cost to bill to a client. So, I eat the cost, bill less, and then I pay a $2 fee for a proposed order, an extra $25 for any filing over $25 pages, etc. I am not sure there are any actual savings at the end of the day, and there are additional costs, in addition to the filing fees I have paid.

Seamless Interface:

The state E-Filing website is bright and glowing. File with us! It will be great! Then it shows you 12 options to choose from, some free, most not. More costs. So, being the small firm I am and not wanting to pass costs on to my clients, I picked the free, state-sponsored e-filing system, https://efile.txcourts.gov/ . Review: its ok. The interface is not super-intuitive, but you can pick your way through it with practice. The problems come in that if you do not have adobe acrobat (or similar program).

Example: You have a pleading that has 100 pages, with exhibits and other stuff. Most were old pieces of paper you had to scan it. In olden times (last year), you file the paper at the counter. Today, FILING REJECTED. Why? Because you need to pay adobe $299.00 for at least the standard version of acrobat, to produce a pdf file that is text-searchable, has bookmarks, and is small enough to not exceed 35 mb. I thought this was supposed to be free?

Yes, there are cheaper competitors to adobe. Foxit is a decent one, but even that costs $89.00 without the upgrade protection. Who is supposed to pay for this additional cost, that I didn't need before E-Filing told me I did? I can't just bill it to the Penske file.

Yes, there are the pay-for E-Filing providers that claim to do this for you, but again, you have to PAY.

So, I set out to see if I could do this for free.

Tips:

I work for a firm that is trying to adopt and adapt to new technology, but sometimes that is difficult to execute. I'm not that old, so I'm pretty tech savvy, but even some of this was a task for me. That said, the key here is producing a text-searchable PDF document.

STEP 1.

Get your document, exhibits, etc., in PDF form. You can do this from word, wordperfect, or scan them in. There are also free pdf converters out there, and you can even create them from your smartphone. If you can't do this, stop reading now.

STEP 2.

Compile your document: Some of the paid programs have the ability to move and cut and combine pdfs, in free land you need one like PDF FILL.  It is rather rudimentary, but it does the job.

STEP 3.

Now in complete form, you need to have a "Text Searchable" pdf, which means a program has to run optical character recognition or OCR on it. Pretty cool technology (what google has used to digitize old texts and libraries) makes the documents word searchable, so I guess I see the point. To do this, you either have to have one of the paid pdf programs, OR after long searching I found this PDF-VIEWER program that provides a free OCR software.  This also allows you to add bookmarks. Just open your compiled pdf  in the program, hit the OCR button, wait till it finishes, add your bookmarks (if any), and hit save.


STEP 4.

You might be already done, but if it is a large document, you could run the risk of being over the size limit. Again, the paid for programs have compression/size reduction features, but if you scanned in your documents they are likely going to take up a large amount of size. So, you need to shrink it. How? There are a couple good, free websites that do it for you. I tried both  small pdf and pdf compress, and pdf compress worked faster (shrink sorta got stuck, although it has solid reviews. Both seem great).  They both take a minute or two then automatically download the compressed document. Save it, and your are finally ready to E-file!


Conspiracy:

E-filing was mandatory in the courts of appeals and federal system for a while, so it was inevitably coming. However, with the mandate came all these new fees, programs, requirements, etc. Someone is getting paid, and I am paying them. My clients are paying additional fees. I understand that it costs money to run the judicial system and retain documents. That is why we pay taxes and filing fees, that all continue to increase. I do not know where these additional fees are going, or why it continues to get more and more expensive to do the simple acts necessary to be a lawyer. Someone maid money on this deal, and I wish I knew who it was.


Conclusion:


I know, all lawyers are rich, quit yer belly-achin', I hear that. I wish it were true, but if this is a big problem then I'm pretty blessed. I am all for new technology, increasing efficiency, and definitely reduction of waste. E-filing should be all those things, but it has not started off without many a hitch. I will continue to educate myself, try new providers, and try to do so efficiently, I just hope the powers that be continue to try and promote a system with the people it affects in mind.


Post Script:

I do not know if those linked programs add malware or additional stuff to your computer. I assume they do, as they are free. I'm sure adobe acrobat is a great program (dear adobe, please send me a copy), I just am fighting it out of spite. I would love any comments or reviews of the other e-filing providers if you have any feedback. 

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