E-Everything & Self-Represented Litigants

Article written by Stephanie McDonald published in the bar journal Communiqué (Apr. 2024)…

By Stephanie McDonald, Esq.

If you’ve ever had a case with a self-represented litigant (“SRL”), you’ve surely wondered why they rarely follow the protocols of e-filing, e-serving, obtaining filings online, etc. The simple answer is that these tools are extremely difficult for non-legal professionals to navigate, and at times are different than systems available to attorneys and the court. This article hopes to dispel some myths and explain some barriers unique to SRLs.

Why can’t SRLs figure out how to e-file?

Mandatory e-filing rules have always allowed exceptions for indigent, disabled, and self-represented litigants. See NEFCR 4(b), EDCR 8.02(b). Most SRLs historically preferred to paper file documents, but they became e-filers out of necessity in 2020.

The e-filing process is far from intuitive. It includes mysterious fields and assumes knowledge of court operations that are beyond the understanding of most non-legal professionals. Do I file a new case? What code do I use? What’s the location? Can I upload one attachment with everything?

Most SRLs (and attorneys who attempt to e-file when office staff are out) answer all these questions wrong. The Clerk’s Office spends countless hours correcting improper e-filings: documents e-filed in the wrong case, multiple forms filed as one pdf, inappropriately initiating a new case that must be cancelled, etc. The result is cluttered up dockets full of nonconforming documents.

Some tech-savvy SRLs mastered the system, but most resumed paper filing in person to avoid e-filing mistakes as soon as they were able.

Myth #1: Anyone with a smartphone can e-file

Have you tried? I have. I’ve never succeeded.

The site itself is not fully mobile friendly. It encourages you to download an e-filing app, but clicking the download link leads nowhere. The upload feature doesn’t let you select a file to attach. Even if it did, the system only accepts pdfs. Most people (myself included) don’t know how to save or convert documents to adobe on their phone.

The bare minimum successful utilization of the e-filing system requires a proper computer, software that converts documents to pdf, and/or a scanner. Low-income households are increasingly dependent on smartphones as their only internet access and are not likely to have these tools.

Myth #2: An e-filing account includes all case documents

Imagine your favorite (or least annoying) social media platform. Maybe you log in to see what other people are up to. Sometimes you share your thoughts or comment on other people’s posts.

Now imagine your social media only allows you to view your own postings within the past six months. You can’t see anyone else’s profile nor any messages they sent you. Your own posts vanish after six months.

An e-filing account works exactly this way: it only includes documents you e-filed yourself within the past 180 days. It does not include documents filed by opposing counsel, other parties, or the court, and it deletes your filings after 180 days.

Why won’t SRLs e-serve?

Most SRLs are eager to register for e-service and are as frustrated as you that they do not get e-served after registering.

E-service depends on three things:

  1. Both parties must be registered to e-serve each other. It just takes one uncooperative party to create an impasse.
  2. The party must e-file the document themselves. Paper documents filed in person—which many SRLs resort to after failed e-filing attempts—are not e-served.
  3. The system default is ‘e-file only.’ The filer must toggle to ‘e-file and serve,’ which is not obvious and missed by most SRLs.

Why don’t SRLs have all their documents?

There is no central location where documents are available to SRLs.

Their e-filing account only stores their own e-filings for 180 days.

If they are e-served, they receive a link to the document in an e-mail that is only valid for 30 days.

The final hope to track documents and case activity is the district court’s online portal at clarkcountycourts.us/portal. Even here, SRL options are limited.

Imagine again you are scrolling through social media and see a picture of a meal. You click the picture expecting to view the recipe, but nothing happens. By contrast, your social media influencer friend has an authenticated account and can see the recipe because they have a degree in social influencing.

These are the two types of portal experiences: attorneys have extended access and can view documents and minutes, while SRLs can only view the limited public information available.
If a case is sealed, SRLs can’t see it at all.

About the author

Stephanie McDonald, Esq. works for Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada where she has been the Directing Attorney at the Family Law Self-Help Center for 10 years. The center provided forms, information, and procedural guidance to over 86K self-represented litigants navigating family court last year.

About the article

© 2024 Clark County Bar Association (CCBA). All rights reserved. No reproduction of any portion of this issue is allowed without written permission from the publisher. Editorial policy available upon request.

This article was originally published in the Communiqué (Apr. 2024), the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association. See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2024/communique-apr-2024/.

The articles and advertisements appearing in Communiqué magazine do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the CCBA, the CCBA Publications Committee, the editorial board, or the other authors. All legal and other issues discussed are not for the purpose of answering specific legal questions. Attorneys and others are strongly advised to independently research all issues.

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