Why isn’t MiFILE more like the federal PACER system?

Why isn’t MiFILE more like the federal PACER system?

This is a question we get all the time.  The Federal courts have developed an excellent e-filing system over the past 20 years or so called PACER or Public Access to Court Electronic Records.

First of all, PACER was developed for a different type of court (Federal vs. State/Local), and the Federal judicial branch does not offer a state version of the software.  Also, PACER is part of an extensive case management system called CM/ECF, which is a required backend to PACER that our local courts don’t have (in other words: you can’t install the front-end PACER system, without the backend plumbing of CM/ECF at the court).

PACER benefited from the federal government having a strong central control over all the federal courts.  This central control enabled decisions and funding to be streamlined.  Michigan’s judicial system is partially decentralized, with local counties and cities having significant say and control over the local courts and how they operate.  The MiFILE project is the result of a lot of hard work and cooperation between Lansing and the local courts.

ImageSoft has reviewed the PACER system, and we understand some of the reasons why Attorneys like it:

  1. Familiarity – after more than 20 years, attorneys and their staff’s are comfortable with it.
  2. Access to Case Records – one of the most popular features of PACER is that it offers public access to the case file (for purchase), which is not something MiFILE currently does.
  3. Consistency – no matter which federal court are accessing, you can use PACER and it works in a familiar way.

Why MiFILE is as good as, or better than PACER

Lessons Learned:
ImageSoft and the State of Michigan have learned some important lessons from PACER that are incorporated into MiFILE.  Familiarity and Consistency is key.  In fact, a core tenet of MiFILE, is that 1 system will be used for all the trial courts in the state.  MiFILE is truly a single system that supports all the trial courts in Michigan.  Whereas PACER has many different systems, MiFILE is one cloud-based system, so your login need only be setup 1 time.

Better Technology:
Technology has changed a lot in the past 20 years, and MiFILE is built on a much more modern architecture that PACER.  MiFILE is truly a cloud-based system.  Using modern cloud technology allows MiFILE to scale much more easily than other systems.  What this means is that MiFILE will have better performance and better protection against downtime.

More Social and Mobile:
Social media and Mobile computing are important trends in the evolution of computers.  Although these trends are still evolving and not all the effects have been positive, we know that these trends have driven computers to be more human-friendly and they’ve allowed people to stay better connected.  MiFILE works from all modern browsers (including smartphones and tablets) and is one of the first e-filing systems to introduce the concept of “connections”.

Connections:
First generation e-filing systems (including earlier versions of TrueFiling – which MiFILE is based on) included the concept of “Law Firms” which has been around for hundreds of years and allows for the grouping of attorneys and their staffs.  This was fine for most situations, but the practice of law in the 21st century is changing and one size does not fit all.  Like many professions, technology is changing the way that people collaborate and the way cases are handled.  The concept of Connections in MiFILE allows one or more people to form a network for the purposes of collaborating on a case.  The people don’t need to be part of the same law firm, or even live in the same geography.  Connections can be used to represent a law firm, and much more.  Stay tuned to see how connections are enhanced in future versions of MiFILE.

Will MiFILE offer access to all cases for download, like PACER?

There are no current plans to allow widespread electronic access to cases in MiFILE.  There are many reasons for this, including:

  1. Care and custody of the case file are primarily the responsibility of the Clerk’s office in Michigan.
  2. As mentioned previously, Michigan’s judicial system is partially decentralized, with local counties and cities having significant say and control over the local courts and how they operate.
  3. Michigan Trial courts handle a lot of very sensitive information, and the security must be strongly considered before opening up access to the Internet.

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