Sixty days after the launch of the North Carolina eCourts system, some lawyers worry about the challenges and potential ethical risks of learning the new procedures.
Earlier this year, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) introduced eCourts in four pilot counties. Lawyers in those counties have expressed concerns about mastering the system, making mistakes, and possibly being reported to the State Bar.
In response, State Bar President Marcia Armstrong penned an open “state of eCourts” letter on the bar’s website, in which she addressed those concerns.
“As with any new venture, and especially one of this magnitude, there are still issues to address and processes to smooth out,” writes Armstrong. “I want to thank the lawyers practicing in our pilot counties for your patience, resilience, and determination to make this system better while still focusing on providing competent representation to your clients.”
Although the State Bar has not been directly involved in eCourts implementation, it has been in “constant communication” with the AOC.
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Letter From NC State Bar President Armstrong
The following is from Armstrong’s letter:
The Council is aware that lawyers in the pilot counties for eCourts may experience challenges as the new system is implemented. Some lawyers have expressed concern that those challenges, which may include obstacles to and delays in disposition of their clients’ cases, could result in the filing of grievances with the State Bar Grievance Committee. Please be assured that the Grievance Committee includes lawyers who practice in every area of the law and in every district in North Carolina, including the four pilot counties for eCourts.
Whenever the Grievance Committee considers whether it is appropriate to open a grievance file or what the appropriate disposition is of a grievance file, the committee takes into account all pertinent facts and circumstances. Pertinent facts and circumstances include whether the lawyer behaved reasonably under circumstances beyond the lawyer’s control.
While the State Bar has no authority to make decisions regarding the content of or operations of the new system, it will exercise the authority it does have prudently and with understanding of the challenges that are inherent in implementing an entirely new system of operating the courts. The State Bar recognizes that these growing pains can be frustrating, but also firmly believes that once the implementation is complete, the new system will revolutionize our court system and promote much greater access to justice for everyone in North Carolina.
On behalf of the State Bar Council, thank you for your considerable efforts as you experience and contribute to our state’s first eCourts system. This system will bring significant improvements to the administration of justice in North Carolina, and we are indebted to you in the pilot counties for blazing a path for the rest of our profession to follow in the coming months.
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