The 411: How NC law schools are handling eCourts

Professors from the state’s law schools say students are adapting quickly

CAPTION: North Carolina’s eCourts rollout began in February 2023. (Image courtesy NCCourts.gov)

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Court System’s transition from paper to digital records through eCourts has reached 27 of the 100 counties in the state.

The eCourts system is replacing the traditional paper processes with electronic filings through “cloud-hosted online access” and has a free online search portal that can be used by anyone to look up court records, dates and case events. The system also allows for “instant online credit card transactions to pay fines and fees.”

The 411 offers an in-depth look at the people and places that make North Carolina grow strong and great.
Advertisements

County courts currently on the eCourts system as of the end of April include Alamance, Beaufort, Camden, Chatham, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Durham, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Guilford, Harnett, Hyde, Johnston, Lee, Martin, Mecklenburg, Orange, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Person, Tyrrell, Vance, Wake, Warren and Washington.

The pilot for the system began in February 2023 with Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake counties participating in the pilot with a goal of integrating all 100 counties by 2025. By July 22, another 11 counties are slated to use the system; Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Polk, Swain and Transylvania.

The eCourt’s technical name is Enterprise Justice (Odyssey) Integrated Case Management System, and the software behind it comes from Tyler Technologies, which, according to the firm’s website, is used in 28 states. The original contract with Tyler Technologies is for 10 years (into 2029) for $100 million, but the cost was cut by more than $6.19 million earlier this year due to implementation delays.

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) estimates more than 3.4 million sheets of paper have been saved through eCourt’s use since the pilot rollout. According to AOC, eCourts File and Serve application has had more than 1 million total e-filings and there have been over 3 million other filings, such as criminal citations and case documents.

Law firms of all types and district attorney offices are all adjusting as eCourts roll out into different counties, but so are law schools. North State Journal reached out to several law schools to gauge how the system was being integrated into coursework.

“Carolina Law prepares graduates to work in any court system ensuring they are practice ready and trained to use the latest technology to serve their clients and the state of North Carolina,” Kelly Podger Smith, senior associate dean at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Law, said in a statement to North State Journal.

Richard A. Waugaman III, a professor at Campbell University’s Law School, said the university doesn’t have a standalone course on the system, but his Gailor Family Law Litigation Clinic and others use it on a “daily basis.”

Waugaman told North State Journal his students get firsthand experience with eCourts.

“They’re getting hands-on training to see how the systems work and how to use the systems, which they are then able to take with them into practice,” said Waugaman. “And depending on where they’re going into practice, some of them are going into firms and counties that are familiar with and already utilizing the e-filings system, but many others are going into firms and counties where they haven’t yet launched the e-filing, and they’re actually having a head start on their new colleagues and coworkers.”

The students are picking up how to use the system quickly, and being accustomed to using the technology regularly is a factor, Waugaman said.

“They’re picking it up pretty fast, probably faster than I picked it up,” said Waugaman. “I think part of it is because they’re learning a system for the first time and this is the only system they have known.”

Waugaman said there weren’t any big issues with using eCourts and that other clinics had already been using federal e-filing services. He added that clinics like his are “definitely at the forefront of the practical kind of training” involved in using systems like eCourts.

Like Waugaman, Katrina L. Smith, the clinical director and supervising attorney of the Family Law Clinic at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law, has also been working with students and eCourts.

“In my courses, particularly within the Family Law Clinic, we started integrating the eCourts platform into my students’ coursework when it initially launched in Wake County, NC,” Smith told North State Journal in a written response to questions. “My students undergo the same training as attorneys and are required to complete simulated client exercises to ensure they comprehend the platform and can file documents accurately. This hands-on approach enables students to manage various aspects of their client’s casework, such as document filing, case tracking, and case research.

“By embedding eCourts into our clinical operations, students gain real-world experience, developing both proficiency and confidence in using the platform. This experiential learning is essential in preparing them for modern legal practice, ensuring they are well-equipped to navigate the evolving technological changes of the legal profession.”

Smith said students are adapting to eCourts “quite well” and the inclusion of her own experiences has helped students address any potential hurdles in using the system.

“Overall, eCourts represent a major advancement in the legal field, offering significant benefits alongside some challenges,” Smith wrote. “The primary advantages include increased efficiency in filing documents, tracking cases, and enhanced case transparency and accessibility. This system saves time and reduces administrative burdens, allowing lawyers and law students to concentrate on substantive legal work.”

Smith added, “eCourts are proving to be an excellent tool for preparing our students for their legal careers after they leave NCCU Law.”

“By integrating this platform into our coursework, students gain practical experience with the latest legal technology, making them highly competitive and confident as they enter a technology-driven legal field,” Smith wrote.

Smith noted that for those less comfortable with technology, transitioning to a digital system can be more difficult and she uses her teaching position to try to address some of those challenges.

“A significant concern is the potential widening of the access to justice gap,” wrote Smith. “While eCourts improve access for tech-savvy individuals, those without reliable internet or digital literacy may struggle to engage with the system. This disparity highlights the need for ongoing support and training for both legal professionals and the public to ensure equitable access to justice.”

About A.P. Dillon 1342 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_