Avoiding scanning with MiFILE

Any time you can avoid scanning you should, and MiFILE is setup to help keep things digital.  Scanned documents are generally much larger than the original format and when you scan a document you are losing many of the key features to edit the data that are present in the original format.  MiFILE will accept the following file formats:

  • Microsoft Word (DOC and DOCX)
  • Adobe PDF (PDF)
  • Plain Text (TXT)
  • Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • Scanned Images (TIFF, JPG, and PNG)

(this information is available if you have a MiFILE login on the MiFILE help pages)

MiFILE will automatically render these formats into a PDF file for you, so you can, in some case avoid scanning altogether by uploading the original format file.

What if I need to sign the document?  In many cases the Michigan Court Rules allow you to sign a document using the “/s/ FIRSTNAME LASTNAME” nomenclature, instead of a “wet” signature which can further alleviated the need to scan (review the Michigan Court Rules for further information).

If you need to upload photographs, and you used a digital camera to create them, there is no reason to scan them again, keep them in digital form.  Check this blog for information on handling digital photographs.

Anatomy of a Scanned Image

A “Scanned Image” or “Document Image”, is, as the name implies, a picture (image) of a document.  Document scanners are just fancy cameras that take a picture of a document.  Scanners with an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) will move the pages across a special type of camera lens (for the nerds out there it is called a CCD) and the computer processor inside the scanner will assemble many small pictures into a single picture representing a page of a document (along with a lot of other cool features).

There are many variables in scanning documents, many of which are beyond the scope of this post.  Below we’ll try to give you the information you need to know.

Types of scanned images

Here are some of the most relevant types of scanned images:

  • Bi-tonal or Black and White – In this mode the scanner is only looking for 2 colors (technically 1) for each pixel.  This creates the smallest possible image because each pixel of the document can be represented by a single computer bit (see the picture on the right).
  • Color – In this mode the scanner is looking for multiple colors for each pixel.  With an infinite spectrum of colors, you can imagine how a color file can be much larger in size than black and white.  Most scanners allow several “color depth” settings which define how many possible colors are in each pixel.  The higher the color depth, the larger the file size.  Higher color depth will generally improve the quality of a color image (up to a point).
  • Grayscale – similar to color except the colors are limited to shades of gray.  Not commonly used for document imaging.

Pixels and DPI

A pixel is a small dot on the page that the scanner captures.  One of the most important settings when scanning a paper document is the Dots Per Inch, or DPI, because this drives the image quality and the size of the file.  DPI is the number of pixels in a square inch of an image.  300 DPI, for example means that the number of pixels captured in an inch is 300×300 or 90,000.  See recommendations below on setting the DPI in your scanner.

Compression

Ok, now we’re getting really nerdy, why do we care about compression.  Compression becomes very important, if you don’t have it.  Almost all images are stored with some sort of compression to reduce the file size and make the image easier to move around.  A JPG file, for example, uses a type of compression that is very efficient at storing photographs.  One of the most popular ways of storing a black and white image is in a TIFF format, with CCITT T.4 compression.  The good news is the better scanners generally do all this for you and you don’t need to worry about it.

A word of caution about compression: Some types of compression actually cause data in the image to be lost.  This is referred to as “lossy compression”.  In most cases the loss is irrelevant because enough of the original is preserved for human viewing.  JPG is the most popular type of compression, and it is a lossy compression.  The TIFF CCITT T.4 compression is lossless, so that is one reason it is commonly recommended for black and white scanning.  To put this into perspective – virtually every photographic process losses data – it is just the nature of photography.  So the act of scanning, means you are creating a lower quality reproduction of the original.  From a legal perspective you should be conscience of what and how you are scanning to ensure that the loss of data is not altering evidence.  In some cases you can avoid scanning altogether, as described in this blog post.

What is the big deal about PDFs

The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) has become the standard for storing documents in the digital age.  It became the standard mainly because Adobe made a genius business decision to freely distributed the Adobe Acrobat Reader application to everyone, at a time when other formats were sometimes requiring proprietary technology to view their documents.  The PDF format is very sophisticated and is often used as a wrapper around other image formats.  For example, TIFF and JPG files can be stored in a PDF wrapper, which makes them viewable in a consistent way.  One of the best things that PDF does, is it allows the storing of multiple pages to represent a single document (something JPG does not allow).  Another PDF feature that is very popular is that it allows the storing of the text of the document and not just an image, which allows the text to be searched or copy-pasted.  Today most modern scanners and other modern software products, like Microsoft Office, can store directly into PDF format – so you should not need to buy any additional products to create PDF files.

All scanners are not created equal

So you need a scanner, what should you buy?  This is one of those “you get what you pay for” situations.  There are many scanners to choose from, and most will do an adequate job.  A lot of Multi-Function Printers (MFPs) do a decent job of scanning.  You can even scan a paper document using your modern smartphone along with a scanning app see the related blog post. However, if you are a professional law firm and you’re going to scan more than a few pages a week, we recommend you consider buying a true production scanner which will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.  You can purchase a production scanner, preconfigured to work with MiFILE at this page.

Recommendations

  1. Scan using Bi-tonal (Black and White) wherever possible to keep file size down.  For most court documents the color in the document is not important to the process.
  2. If you are scanning a black and white document scan at 200-300 DPI into a TIFF or PDF file (your file size should be less than 75K per page).
  3. If you are scanning photographs or color documents where the color is important, scan at 150-200 DPI (32K color depth) into a JPG or PDF file (your file size should be less than 200K per page).  Some courts don’t accept color files, so check the file-stamped copy that is returned to you to make sure it represents what you intended to submit to the court.
  4. In the above two scenarios, if your file sizes are significantly higher than what is shown, then you are probably not using compression right.  You may need to experiment with these settings.
  5. If you are a professional law firm and you’re going to scan more than a few pages a week, we recommend buying a true production scanner which will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.  You can purchase a production scanner, preconfigured to work with MiFILE at this page.
  6. Once the scanner is working the way you want it, save the settings so that you can reuse next time.  Most people will save separate settings for color photographs, color documents, and black & white documents.
  7. Newer scanners have some really nice software features built in, such as: blank-page delete, auto-cropping/page size detection, deskew, and auto-orientation.  Become familiar with these features, they can really help create a good looking document image.

 

MiFILE Update – 6th Circuit Court goes live on December 18, 2017

The 6th Circuit Court (Oakland) went live with the new MiFILE system on December 18, 2017.  MiFILE includes the new TrueFiling 3.0 platform, along with enhancements to the court’s internal workflow system.  This release allows e-filing of Civil and Family case types.

The first filer to the Oakland MiFILE system was Catrina F. and she was recognized with a lovely MiFILE coffee mug and other ImageSoft promotional items.

Here’s a picture of the MiFILE team in the “war room” in Southfield providing white-glove support to our friends at Oakland County:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filing can be submitted at: mifile.courts.michigan.gov

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.