CA: DWC Moving Toward Mandatory E-Filing for Attorneys

***THIS POST WAS REVISED 9/15/2010***

OAKLAND, CA - Last month DWC celebrated two successful years using the Electronic Adjudication Management System (EAMS) as the court’s system of record.  DWC is now poised to take the next logical step in trial procedures and practices by wrapping professional users of EAMS into its electronic filing capabilities, beginning as early as next year.  This will help move system users away from optical character recognition (OCR) paper forms, which are currently submitted by a large number of system users, and toward electronic filing, which will deliver benefits for everyone.  

Over 400 external user offices, some having 15 or more people per location, are already electronic filers, participating in the state’s initial rollout of its EAMS e-forms. These pioneers have led the transition from paper to digital submissions.  After experiencing the advantages of e-form filing at one or a few office locations, some law firms and organizations have added other office locations as e-form filers.  For example, Pearlman, Borska & Wax just added its Glendale location.  Both large and small firms are happy to make the move to e-form filing, because of the many benefits it offers. 

As one e-form filer reports, “I can now do things from my one office in Encino for the entire state that would have required me to use contract attorneys or open other offices. It is efficient and saves on costs.”

As a member of the DWC’s Central Registration Unit (CRU), Jackie McConnie and a team of other DWC leaders routinely review the submissions of e-form filers and assist them to identify errors and make corrections.  DWC is increasing the size and capabilities of the team to provide the necessary training and ongoing support for additional e-form filers. 

And e-form filing is just the beginning. DWC is working on its plan to expand access to EAMS by providing additional methods to file electronically.

When EAMS launched in 2008, electronic filing was only available to those who agreed join the e-forms trial and file all of their forms electronically. Today, filers also have the option of hiring a third party filer to electronically file some documents through e-forms for a fee.

DWC has been preparing to accommodate and assist the large group of professional users that will be filing electronically by meeting regularly with its external user advisory group, hearing about its needs, and crafting a plan for providing access to EAMS that is based on external user needs. While DWC has been working to secure funding to increase logon access to EAMS for external users, the division and its working group of claims administrators, attorneys, service providers, lien claimants and others created a “Present Term Solution” (PTS).  

The PTS includes an additional electronic filing method, scheduled to debut in a few short months. This new method, which uses secure file transfer protocol (SFTP), will allow high volume users to file efficiently, which will in turn benefit users still filing on paper or by e-forms by reducing the overall volume of paper going into the system and freeing up more logons for e-form users. The first phase of this new filing method is on track for completion in December 2010 (or January 2011 if furloughs continue). Providing electronic filing options is part of DWC’s long-term plan to expand electronic filing without putting unnecessary burdens on external filers.

Court Administrator Keven Star has spoken with a number of other workers’ compensation leaders – from North Carolina and other states – who are all looking to make the transition from paper to computerized systems.  Star said that DWC has a very comprehensive system, but it is not alone in electronic filing.  The federal courts have an electronic system, as does California with its CCMS.  Some other states have varying degrees of electronic filing already.  Paper legacy files have disappeared from the courtrooms, and old, legacy forms have been replaced by EAMS forms.  The natural progression, particularly given the expanding of options with the PTS, is to ultimately mandate e-filing by counsel.    

A team from DWC and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) is working to ensure that updated regulations addressing these changes will be ready next year for public review and comment.  In the interim, DWC has been working on the PTS to enable large filers to do electronic filing of those forms with the highest filing volumes. These are the first steps in a multi-phased approach to ensure that workers’ compensation practitioners and participants have multiple tools for filing and retrieving documents, as well as obtaining court hearing dates.  Changing the methods from the old style of paper submissions and paper files has been an exciting and rewarding step for DWC.  It is always better to embrace technology and the changes it offers to make a system more secure and efficient.  DWC has a number of resources for e-filer training (on line guides and free webinars).  For those attorneys who have not yet filed electronically, DWC will continue to provide the tools and training they need to file successfully in EAMS.

Source: California Division of Workers’ Compensation