Federal courts have been sending notices urging attorneys not to share their login credentials with vendors. The courts’ primary concern is vendors accessing confidential information and they ask attorneys to exercise caution when giving their login information to a provider to allow them to manage files. The advice from the federal courts is a clear warning to those who may be sharing credentials on the state court level.
Federal Court Notices
The notices were sent from several federal district and bankruptcy courts. While the text varied in each, the general concept was the same: be careful of sharing your login credentials with docket service vendors at the risk of providing them with access to confidential or sealed information. Providers like DocketBird, CourtDrive, Pacer and Docket Alarm provide a way through a third-party to collect and organize case filings, but require access to the court documents in order to do so.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma noted “Sharing your PACER account credentials with a third-party service provider or designating that provider as a recipient of a Notice of Electronic Filing or Notice of Docket Activity (NEF/NDA) will give it access to sealed case information and documents in violation of court order”.
To see the full text of some of these notices:
Outside of the issue of sharing of confidential information, there are also other problems attorneys should be concerned about when sharing their court login with vendors beyond docket management providers.
Errors can occur during the upload of documents and should the information be inaccurate, it’s not as simple to get rid of it as hitting the delete key. Once a document is uploaded to the system it becomes part of the court record. In order to remove it, a motion must be filed and a fee paid in order to strike it from the record. Should a vendor upload the incorrect information, it could have even more significant ramifications should the error go unnoticed until the documents are viewed by the judge or opposing counsel.
Liability is an even larger concern, given that any information entered under an attorney’s credentials, regardless of who actually entered the information, is the responsibility of the attorney. This means if a document is uploaded without personal identifying information removed or with confidential information included, the attorney is on the hook for the mistake. The magnitude of the possible sanctions as a result of the error mean the power of having the ability to upload and edit those documents should be kept to very select individuals, such as the attorney’s paralegal rather than a vendor.
Use of Caution
With more courts requiring the use of e-filing and online systems, combined with a lack of API availability that would allow software to integrate with the court systems, offering login credentials to providers appealing on first glance. To be able to have the ability to better manage documents and take some of the workload off the firm’s staff seems beneficial without considering the rule and ethical violations that can occur. Once the problematic details of liability and providing access to confidential information are examined, it’s clear the federal courts are likely to continue to uphold their existing stance and state courts will likely follow.
For more information on the particular concerns involved with sharing login credentials for New Jersey’s e-courts, check out What New Jersey Law Firms Need to Know About E-Filing & Vendors.