In the heart of Texas, e-gov makes its case
- By William Welsh
- Jul 17, 2003
BearingPoint, state supreme court collaborate on online project
BearingPoint has focused on providing the necessary interfaces between attorneys and courts as well as commercial electronic filing systems and TexasOnline, said Gary Miglicco, BearingPoint's national director for electronic government services.
In January, Texas attorney Riecke Baumann filed the first electronic lawsuit in Fort Bend County, Texas, while sitting in his Houston office, an hour drive from the courthouse.
Filing documents for suits such as Baumann's is part of a new e-government pilot project by BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., within the three-year-old TexasOnline e-government project.
Baumann and other attorneys who are now submitting court documents online find that electronic filing eliminates many headaches, such as having to know the rules and fees for filing that vary widely among the 254 counties in Texas.
"It was really a piece of cake, [and] filings are never returned because our check was off by 15 cents," said Baumann, whose practice specializes in helping national retailers collect debts. Instead., attorneys simply pay online using credit cards.
Since the pilot began, Baumann's office has filed some 50 new suits and default judgments. His staff is getting savvier at electronic filing and now prefers it to regular mail, he said.
The pilot project is a collaboration of BearingPoint and the Texas Supreme Court to simplify and improve the process of filing legal documents related to the more than 400,000 civil cases filed in the state each year. In each case, attorneys file between 4 and 17 documents, according to state officials.
The collaboration is a hallmark of the TexasOnline project, which the state and contractor describe as a public-private partnership to provide electronic services to state and local agencies.
The project's financial model includes transaction fees, subscription services, cost sharing, advertising and resale of information to generate revenue for the state. It lets the company recover its initial investment of $28 million.
Launched in May 2000, the project has enabled state residents to file license applications, pay taxes, file permits, pay utility bills, parking tickets and other time-consuming tasks online.
BearingPoint's e-government model "is fashioned to be more customer intimate" than those of other companies, said Amy Santenello, senior research analyst with the market research firm of Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. BearingPoint goes the extra mile to understand how government works in Texas, what applications are feasible and how to get things done with the executive and legislative branches, she said.
For example, the company and the Texas Supreme Court had to work together to create the standards necessary for electronic filing to succeed, Santenello said.
The pilot project went live in Bexar, Fort Bend and Upton counties earlier this year, and will be expanded to additional counties this fall, said Mike Griffith, director of the Judicial Council for Information Technology for the Texas Supreme Court.
Small technology companies first began establishing systems that would support electronic filing associated with class-action lawsuits about a decade ago, according to legal experts and industry officials. In recent years, the challenge for systems integrators has been to help states adapt such systems to support case work for literally hundreds of jurisdictions located in a state.
Court filings typically produce one of the largest paper flows in state government, officials said. The goal of the Texas electronic filing project is to help courts dig themselves out from under mountains of paperwork, Griffith said.
While the Texas Supreme Court busied itself with developing standards for a unified electronic filing system, BearingPoint focused on providing the necessary interfaces between attorneys and courts as well as commercial electronic filing systems and TexasOnline, said Gary Miglicco, BearingPoint's national director for electronic government services.
The requirements were for the solution to be scalable, interface with existing back-end systems and require no additional funding by the courts and clerks, Miglicco said. In addition, the system had to require very little additional training and support, because the courts and clerks "are notoriously underfunded in their technology," he said.
To meet these needs, BearingPoint and its partner, Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., built a Web-based electronic file manager that is based on industry-standard Web protocols and interoperates with multiple systems. The beauty of the electronic file manager is that it leaves the market open to any vendor that wants to serve the attorneys, Miglicco said.
"We didn't want to force an attorney to use one firm for his research or case management and another firm for his electronic filing," he said. "We wanted to leave the marketplace open on the attorney side, but have the advantage of one point of connectivity and one set of standards that deals with the courts."
The total cost per filing is about $10, Griffith said. This includes a $4 fee charged by TexasOnline, a $2 fee charged by the county where the filing is made and a fee of $2 to $5 charged by the electronic filing service company serving the attorney, he said.
Filing online will simplify the process of accepting and reviewing documents for court clerks, reduce costs associated with copying and mailing documents, and allow attorneys to file from remote locations both during and after regular hours, Griffith said.
In his view, the project is not about making a profit for the courts or for the state, but about improving the filing process.
"We're not in it for the money," Griffith said. "We're in it for the clerks and courts." *
Staff writer William Welsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.