Mandatory E-Filing: Future Prejudice to Pro Se Litigants?

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is one of the most recent additions to the list of courts in the United States that require new cases to be filed electronically, or e-filed.[1] This requirement, for the time being, applies only to lawyers and not to pro se litigants.[2] However, as is the case with technological advances in the legal system, it will surely only be a matter of time before pro se litigants are required to e-file as well.

Many litigants who decide to represent themselves in court do so as a result of the overwhelming price tag that legal aid often carries.[3] While understandable, this decision leads to many disadvantages to the pro se litigants.[4] Lawyers get three years of training to handle the legal system, while pro se litigants are often forced into the field blind.[5] Mandatory e-filing for new lawsuits, if applied to pro se litigants, would only exacerbate the already well-documented problems faced by these people.

Pro se litigants, as noted, are generally not very well off. For some, requiring access to computers and the internet in order to file a lawsuit could present a significant burden. Further, these litigants, if forced to file online instead of in person, could have significant trouble figuring out what forms and information they need to submit. Whereas pro se litigants can currently ask court employees what is needed, or at least be told upon submission if they omitted something necessary to file, a pro se litigant forced to file online could lack access to this vital information and be dissuaded from filing at all. While the court employees would still be willing to help pro se litigants, the litigants may not realize that they are able to ask if they are not in front of the employees but are instead in front of a computer.

These factors have probably led to the decision to only require e-filing for lawyers.[6] However, it is likely that in this age of technology, the change for pro se litigants is impending. The question that must remain at the forefront of this issue is whether it is fair to ask pro se litigants to keep up with technology when they sometimes struggle keeping up with everyday bills and expenses. Unless the system that is set up for electronic filing also includes guidance for pro se litigants and is made accessible free of cost, it would significantly prejudice an already disadvantaged class.[7]

Despite the potential prejudice, e-filing could be a successful system for pro se litigants. To make e-filing a positive experience for pro se litigants, courts could partner with public libraries to make access to the e-filing system free. Additionally, the system could be designed with understandable instructions for the pro se litigants to e-file their cases. This would allow the courts to remain accessible for pro se litigants, which is necessary to keep fairness and balance in the legal system.


[1] Zoe Tillman, D.C. Federal Court to Require E-Filing For New Cases, Law Technology News (June 7, 2012), http://www.law.com/jsp/lawtechnologynews/PubArticleLTN.jsp?id=1338902042142&thepage=1

[2] Id.

[3] What Is Pre Se Legal Representation?, RocketLawyer, http://www.rocketlawyer.com/article/what-is-pro-se-legal-representation.rl

[4] See, e.g., Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 835 (1975) (Noting that before a person should be allowed to proceed pro se, “he should be made aware of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation.”).

[5] See RocketLawyer, supra note 3.

[6] Tillman, supra note 1.

[7] See generally Ken LaMance, Advantages and Disadvantages of Pro Se Criminal Representation, LegalMatch (May 18, 2012, 3:57 PM), http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-pro-se-criminal-representation.html

Author: Kelsi Hunt

Ms. Hunt is an associate editor on the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. Beyond her journal position, Ms. Hunt serves as 2L Representative of Phi Alpha Delta’s Jackson Chapter at Rutgers. With a strong interest in criminal law, Ms. Hunt intends to specialize in criminal defense. She also aims to work for the Innocence Project, an organization which exonerates the wrongfully convicted through DNA evidence. At college, Ms. Hunt worked as a bankruptcy intern at the Office of Albert Russo, Standing Chapter 13 Trustee, where she organized creditor meetings and assisted with confirmation hearings in court. In law school, Ms. Hunt held a position as an intern at the Law Office of Judith G. Amorski in Freehold, New Jersey, where she handled a wide variety of cases involving, among others, criminal defense, family law, personal injury, trusts and estates, wills, bankruptcy, consumer fraud, and tax law.

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