Filing Technology Infrastructure:

Standards & APIs

Modernize with Standards & APIs

Filing systems may look very different from one state to another:

  • Some more mature systems enable all court users statewide to efile in any case type
  • Others limit efiling to specific geographic regions, case types, and court user types

Before initiating change, courts should decide up front what services they wish to incorporate in the filing technology infrastructure, including which case types will be included and which users will have access. Notably, vendors make clear that an end-to-end digital process, from form creation to payment and filing, facilitates investment in better tools. These decisions should align with your court’s access to justice values, mission, and goals. Once those underlying policy decisions are made, then you can address technology infrastructure decisions.

This Toolkit section focuses on two specific actions that courts can take to broadly modernize their filing technology infrastructures and achieve a more open and accessible system:

  • Provide standard connections between filing system components
  • Adopt existing national electronic filing standards

The full landscape of a court’s filing technology infrastructure involves several interconnected pieces11 (see The Court Filing Landscape Today and Appendix A). Each filing system component can be acquired from an outside vendor or developed in-house:

Case Management System (CMS)

Electronic Filing Manager (EFM)

Electronic Filing Service Providers (EFSPs)

The same vendor may produce multiple system components, but all do not have to be implemented. Effective electronic court filing systems are a careful game of coordination and integration of all these components. Court technologists and technology providers can engineer custom-built data exchanges between these components to accomplish the necessary integrations, but building these exchanges can take months or years, and maintaining them is difficult and costly when components evolve over time. Custom integrations also discourage new entrants into efiling service provider marketplaces, as new vendors don’t want to build and maintain new one-off integrations.

Instead, establishing data exchanges via standards-based Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) throughout your filing infrastructure facilitates reliability and enables your court to more easily extend or replace filing system components as needed. Fortunately, much good work related to standards has already been done by the National Center for State Courts and some vendors in this domain.

Court Modernization Diagnostic Tool

Use this diagnostic tool to help determine where to focus your filing system modernization efforts.

  • More “YES” answers mean that your court is further along in modernizing that category. Focus more on recommendations in this Toolkit for categories where you’ve answered “NO.”
Does your court offer efiling in all counties and courts?
Is efiling available for all civil case types?
Are all litigants allowed and able to use the efiling system?
Does your court use the Electronic Court Filing Standard (ECF 5 or at least ECF 4) to allow easy integration of new technology vendors with your efiling system?
Does your electronic filing manager component have an open interface (an “API”) that clearly defines how third-party service providers can connect to it?

Recommendation 1

Offer an API for Efiling

Courts can ensure that their filing infrastructure framework is usable by technology partners and decrease risk of vendor lock-in by offering, or requiring vendors to offer, a standard way to connect components of their filing systems. An Application Programming Interface, or “API,” provides connection points and instructions that make data exchange between components seamless. 

Courts should not have custom-developed connections between their electronic filing manager and one or more electronic filing service providers. By requiring vendors to create open APIs, which are publicly available online to other vendors and software developers, courts can ensure standardized data transfer protocols and avoid the high cost of switching infrastructure components. Open APIs also help courts steer clear of difficulties maintaining custom integrations and problems attracting new technology partners.

What is an API?

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)12 are like messengers that allow different software applications or systems to talk to each other and exchange information. They define a set of rules and protocols for how to request and send data or perform specific actions between different programs.

Think of APIs as translators that enable seamless communication and cooperation between various digital services and applications. APIs let filing system components talk to each other through a series of standardized definitions that tell one component what information another component needs to perform an action and what information to expect back. 

What can your court do to offer an efiling API?

A common problem in state courts is that not all filing system components have an external API that seamlessly connects them. The result can be applications that don’t communicate well with each other, causing ineffective data transfer and poor user experience. By offering API endpoints, which are specific locations within an API that accept requests and send back responses, courts allow system components to easily communicate and exchange data in a structured and standardized way. 

Many state courts with established electronic filing managers already have a standardized API to connect them to various efiling service providers. However, many states have not activated the option that opens up this API to new service providers. Courts may have legitimate concerns about opening up access to their efiling system, but failing to do so—even in a limited fashion with sufficient guardrails—prevents new service providers from operating in their jurisdiction, even when those providers have proven themselves in other states or can demonstrate their competency and value to users. (
See the Technology Governance section for a discussion about the need for clear vendor certification protocols.) Limiting access to existing APIs also prevents competition that can improve entrenched vendors and bring in new participants.

In other industries when APIs and data standards are updated, new technical documentation and public messaging related to the updates are usually provided. That should be the case for courts as well, even though they may not be directly involved in setting the new standards or APIs. Efiling technology vendors have stressed the need for ongoing communication and consistent updates from courts about efiling changes and problems, like changes in requirements to efile, technical updates to the efiling platform, rejection of efiling submissions, and more.

Recommendation 2

Adopt Standards-Based APIs for Efiling 

Courts that want to offer efiling options to court users and attract technology partners will adopt the latest version of existing electronic filing standards. Electronic Court Filing or “ECF”, is an accepted and well-established standard that was developed over many years with the support of the National Center for State Courts and multiple state courts and efilng solution providers. The ECF standard provides a common language for communication and describes how to package certain pieces of information.

Standards make the exchange of information between filing system components easier, allow courts to future-proof their infrastructure by using conventions that are tested and less costly to maintain, and allow easier integration of vendors that use the standard. ECF enables court choice, filer choice, and innovation.

What is the ECF standard?

LegalXML Electronic Court Filing (ECF) is a national standard that allows systems or entities participating in the efiling process to communicate and exchange data with one another.13 Standards facilitate interoperability between efiling system components. The ECF standard was developed and is maintained by OASIS, a nonprofit and internationally recognized standards development organization. Many courts that use ECF are still using version 4.0 or 4.01, which was approved as a standard in 2013, though version 4.1 was just published in 2023. ECF version 5.0 was approved as a specification in 2019 and ECF 5.01 was approved as a draft in 2022. ECF 5 standards improve upon ECF 4 standards with new features and better interoperability.
The ECF standard was developed based on the National Information Exchange Model, which established a common data standard and set of definitions to aid information exchange between different governmental agencies and private industries.14 However, ECF is more than just a data standard that defines data fields (such as respondentPartyAttorney) and the type of information that fields store. ECF also defines data exchanges that take place between court technology system components. For example, it outlines what information a court’s electronic filing manager needs from an electronic filing service provider in order to receive an efiling action, and what information will be sent back when a filing is successful.15 The ECF standard and APIs work together within a court’s efiling system. ECF establishes the expected data formatting of the inputs and outputs and some basic data exchange formats. A good API is based on the larger ECF framework and may use the same main interface with extensions for additional functionality, like where to send the information it collects.

What can your court do to adopt national efiling standards?

Courts in the market for a new efiling vendor should favor those using the newest ECF standards. Existing vendors should be encouraged to adopt or make the transition to ECF 5, or at the very least use ECF 4.1. If vendors are unwilling to make this change, then courts should consider alternative vendors. 

The ECF standards have been largely adopted by courts and technology providers, although some courts and vendors still use older versions of the standard. Virtually all electronic filing service providers now use some version of ECF 4 or ECF 5, as they want to easily connect with multiple efiling manager systems. Integrating new technology partners with legacy systems that use old standards places burdens on court staff and vendors who must create custom connections between components. This dissuades new partners from working with you at all. Non-standard systems may also require more customization for basic functionality that OASIS has spent decades thinking through in their development of ECF. Existing integrations with these old standards just defer these problems, as courts will eventually need to relink their legacy components with a standards-based approach for new technology vendors.

Lawyers and litigants are also likely to benefit when courts adopt ECF. Vendors that serve court users and that tailor their services to particular niches of litigation are unlikely to enter the market at all if integration costs are too high or the market size is too small. One example is vendors considering serving the needs of self-represented litigants. When courts use ECF, these vendors reduce costs by implementing a well-understood standard designed for ease of integration, and they are more likely to find other jurisdictions that they can serve with the same implementation. Courts using ECF are also more likely to attract existing vendors given ECF’s current adoption rate, with some vendors already serving self-represented litigants.

Maturity Model

The Filing Technology Infrastructure Maturity Model lays out moderate, good, better, and advanced stages. Consider where your court’s filing technology infrastructure falls on this model and how it compares with other states that are profiled.


Court offers basic efiling, but no open interface to connect components.

Your court has some sort of efiling system, but the components of that infrastructure either do not communicate with each other or rely on custom, non-standard integrations.


Court provides a standards-based efiling system with a basic open interface.

Your court has a basic efiling system with some sort of standards-based open interface (e.g., an early form of the ECF standard). However, communication between components requires some custom integration.


Court provides a modern standards-based efiling system with an easy-to-use open interface.

Your court has a modern, standards-based efiling system. Components have well-documented open interfaces with little or no customization required to connect. However, distinct components may still appear to users as separate applications.


Court provides a seamless, connected efiling system with an easy-to-use open interface.

Your court has a modern efiling system based on the most current standards. Software between components (a virtualized layer) ensures that they work seamlessly together as if they were one system. Components have well-documented, easily accessible open interfaces that require no customization.


Basic Efiling with No Open Interface

Your court has implemented some form of efiling. That might mean that an attorney or litigant manually completes a PDF form or uses a document assembly tool to generate one; that form is then emailed to the court clerk, who manually populates the case management system with the form information. This is currently the case in some counties in Oklahoma.

It could also mean that the litigant or lawyer uploads the document to an electronic filing service provider, which then sends the case information to the court’s systems. But there is no API connecting the disparate components in this system. Instead, communication between components requires customized integration. Connecticut’s custom efiling system, E-Services, is an example, as the components were developed in-house together.


Standards-Based Efiling with Basic Open Interface

Your court has an efiling infrastructure with a basic API. PDF forms are not emailed directly to a court clerk but are instead uploaded to the efiling system. Components of your system—whether one or more electronic filing service providers, one or more efiling managers, or your case management system—speak to each other using that basic API.

It may be based on an earlier version of ECF, such as the API used by Tybera eFlex in Utah; less preferably, it may be a state-specific standard that was developed when your infrastructure was first established. However, the API connection points aren’t the easiest to use, and new vendors trying to build user-facing filing tools would require substantial work to integrate.


Modern Standards-Based Efiling with Easy-to-Use Open Interface

Your court has an efiling infrastructure with an easy-to-use API and uses at least ECF 4 data standards. Documentation makes clear how vendors can access existing components that are used by your court. If an electronic filing service provider wants to enter your state, it would be able to find technical documentation about the API used by your electronic filing manager.

The steps to get technically certified by your court are clear. The amount of time needed to integrate with the API is significantly lower than in the “Good” case.

State Highlight: Texas

The Texas Courts’ efiling manager uses ECF 5.0 for its API, which can be activated (and has been, by the Texas Courts) to enable open use by electronic filing service providers that wish to enter the efiling marketplace. Vendors work with the Director of Information Services for the Texas Courts to become a certified electronic filing service provider, which requires passing (and continuing to pass) a series of integration tests. Currently, 22 providers serve a variety of litigant needs in Texas, and they are featured to users on

While this marketplace is partially a result of the technical choices made in Texas, courts must also make policy choices that promote a diverse partner ecosystem. See Partner Ecosystem for Forms & Filing.


Seamless, Connected Efiling

Your court has an efiling infrastructure with an easy-to-use API and uses at least ECF 4 data standards. Documentation makes clear how vendors can access existing components that are used by your court. If an electronic filing service provider wants to enter your state, it would be able to find technical documentation about the API used by your electronic filing manager.

The steps to get technically certified by your court are clear. The amount of time needed to integrate with the API is significantly lower than in the “Good” case.

Impacts of APIs and Efiling Standards


Courts are likely to face lower maintenance costs

Custom integrations between efiling system components are expensive to maintain when technology inevitably changes over time. Feature additions and bug fixes require wading through complicated technical decisions that demand expertise that many courts lack. Custom integrations also can’t be reused and do not benefit from features included in the ECF standard, which has undergone decades of development and iteration.


Courts are likely to face lower costs to add new, innovative vendors in the future

When courts use custom integrations between filing system components instead of using common data standards that are open to external vendors, they cannot easily add or switch vendors. Adding a new vendor requires creating a new custom integration and removing an existing vendor that may be tightly connected with the infrastructure. This isn’t just about the cost of paying IT professionals—it also means that new technology that would be easier for court users and more efficient for staff to use may not be justifiable given the expense of changing. By using APIs and nationally-recognized data standards, courts enable more straightforward integration of new types of tools.16

For example, future data standards could tell user-facing systems how to find the status of a pending filing in the court’s internal systems, thereby allowing them to show users more detailed information about their cases.17


Lawyers and litigants will likely have access to a wider set of high quality products and services

When vendors cannot easily integrate because of a lack of standardized systems or cannot integrate at all because a proprietary vendor is closed off, they will choose not to participate in a court’s efiling system. Since many state courts already use ECF standards, these vendors may decide to operate just in those states and forgo the burden of adapting to your court. Or, if they are sizing the market to decide whether to develop a tool for a particular legal niche, they might decide that the costs aren’t worth the market size they can serve. In either case, lawyers and litigants lose access to technologies that could improve filing generally or for a particular legal issue or user type.


Thoughtful data standards and protocols are key to the careful game of coordination between filing system components. Standardization reduces the burden for court administrators and technology providers when technology changes need to be made. The use of standards attracts new technology providers who otherwise may not be able to justify the time and cost of building individual, custom integrations, but who can serve niche markets or self-represented litigants.

Implementing ECF 5 or even ECF 4 along with well-documented, open APIs is a clear foundational step to achieve these benefits. Even when courts don’t develop their own technologies, they should take an active role in encouraging their technology partners to adopt these standards and protocols.

11 See Joint Tech. Comm., JTC Resource Bulletin: Introduction to the Next-Generation Court Technology Standards Application Component Model (2017), (recommending the Application Component Model that allows courts to choose interlocking applications for various business functions instead of a monolithic system).

12 See MuleSoft Videos, What Is an API?, YOUTUBE (June 19, 2015), for a simple explanation of APIs.

13 For those more technically inclined, ECF uses XML—a structured language describing computer data—to create and transmit legal documents, serving as a sort of envelope to submit substantive forms into a court’s case management system.

14 See F Dale Kaspareck, Jr., John M. Greacen & Terrie Bousquin, Nat’l Ctr. for State Cts., Standards for Electronic Filing Processes (Technical and Business Approaches) (2003),

15 See OASIS, 7 Steps to Electronic Filing with Electronic Court Filing 4.0 5-6,

16 See OASIS, supra note 15, at 2 (“One of the enormous benefits of utilizing the ECF specification is that it does not restrict you to a specific FSP.”).

17 Cf. Ben Moscovitch, Ashley Ashworth, Matt Reid & Laura Hoffman, Technology Offers Solutions to Ease Burdens on Clinicians, PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS (May 18, 2020), (discussing similar benefits of APIs in the medical technology setting).

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