In the 1990s, the number of documents submitted to the Superior Court of King County, Washington, escalated from 4,000 to over 8,000 daily. Court staff struggled to maintain and to organize the incoming filings. Staff also competed for access to the single file that housed all cases, which often resulted in the failure to provide documents to judges that compromised the judges' ability to make fully informed decisions.
In response to these mounting difficulties, the King County Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) initiated the Electronic Court Records (ECR) program, an effort which required not only a physical shift from a paper to an electronic filing system, but also a revised understanding of what was the "official" court record. The ECR program considers the electronic object created through scanning or electronic filing to be the "original record" once it has been secured within the Clerk's electronic document management system. The ECR Program has thus created a paperless court record, so effective that most paper documents—with few exceptions—are discarded. Through the ECR program, the King County Superior Court Clerk's Office now provides timely, electronic access to court documents, once severely restricted due to sheer volume.
Additional evidence of the success of the ECR program is the resultant cost savings. Since the initiation of the ECR, the Clerk's Office has reduced staff by 18.5 positions and plans to reduce by 7.5 more. (Opening case files on the desktop brought efficiency gains to both judges and court staff, ending the need for staffers to serve as "runners" to and from the courtroom to file storage spaces.) Other savings include approximately $250,000 per year, as the purchase of special file folders and microfilming services is no longer needed.
King County has partnered with companies that provide services for courts interested in developing document-automation systems to create LegalXML, a group that identifies the technical standards on which electronic filing implementations need to be patterned, the first step in ECR replication efforts. Now a member section in the Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), LegalXML is composed of technical committees working to hone electronic court filing, e-notarization, and e-contracts.