Between the Lines: ABC Legal’s Court Venue Selection Tool
Venue selection for civil cases is a fairly simple, yet potentially time-consuming process. The value of proper venue selection is straightforward. If you get it right the first time, you don’t have to restart the legal process if/when the defendant (or judge) spots the error. It’s a potential headache reducer that also keeps attorneys looking professional.
Venue selection is especially worth investing in for small claims. In small claims, a few simple steps can keep a case’s alignment to a court’s jurisdiction in check. Confirming case type and suit amount against local laws and court jurisdictions takes some time. It can be far less time-consuming for legal professionals with high volumes of cases to use a tool provided by a legal services vendor to take care of venue selection. Today, we’re going to explore such a tool designed by ABC Legal.
Where is the Venue Selection Tool Found?
Venue Selection is a free-to-use, self-service tool available to ABC Legal's small claims customers. The tool is designed to support small claims and collections cases, due to the restrictive nature of venue in those cases — and the severity of the repercussions for getting venue wrong. The information provided is a courtesy, subject to change but updated regularly if issues are found. Venue selection is currently available in 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. The tool can be accessed within the ABC Legal customer portal as a subsection of “Reports”.
What Information is Needed to Determine Venue?
Several key pieces of information come together to shape the results in the venue selection tool: court jurisdictions, an address database, and input from the legal professional instigating the search. Underlying court jurisdictions in areas with more complex venues are mapped within the system. The information customers provide is compared against the physical and monetary restrictions associated with cases that can be heard at each venue - placing the case at the right court based on suit amount and defendant location.
Attorneys or paralegals input a defendant’s address, city, state, and zip code, add in the suit amount. Then, with the press of a button, the system returns the recommended venue. It’s that painless. Legal professionals can search individually for court venues in the calculator interface or perform a bulk search through a “Batch Court Venue Search”.
Screenshot of Venue Search and Fee Calculator, March 2021
What’s the Magic Behind Venue Selection?
The magic that makes the tool work is a careful combination of finely applied technology and our curious, dedicated, and persistent staff. Like any legal agent hoping to file a court case, ABC Legal needs to set aside the time to research court jurisdiction for cases. However, due to the scale of ABC Legal’s clients’ needs, the research can't be case-by-case; it has to be thorough and statewide. Representatives from several teams, including the Investigations team, work on the tool.
Some states are simple to map, their courts divided along county lines. The problem states are the ones, like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, divided along other lines. In those states, the venue selection tool is particularly useful, and that's where development is prioritized. ABC Legal's teams investigate court jurisdiction — calling courts, scouring the internet for jurisdiction maps, and getting final confirmation on test addresses in irregularly-drawn precincts. The end result is a series of clear, confirmed jurisdiction lines that addresses can be placed within using a mapping database, allowing for categorization into the correct court.
Chloe Bell, an account manager at ABC Legal services, provides a glowing view of the benefits of this process for customers in Texas:
“There are so many courts in Texas, and we take the time to learn about them. In Texas, the courts are very specific and have subvenues. We’re on top of those. We can provide people with the court they should be filing - even the court level and the precinct. You give us the case and we tell you that you should be filing in Precinct 3, Place 1, in the Justice of the Peace court in Zapata county.”
The number of cases teams at ABC Legal handle and regular contact with courts ensure that the tool is constantly tested and validated. The tool gets updated to account for any potential errors or court changes as they occur. It's a feat of diligent research and court feedback that incorporates some of the broader technologies used at the company and rewraps it so that ABC Legal’s customers reap the benefit of that hard work.
Tools to improve the Process: Venue Protection
The venue selection tool takes the process of choosing a venue down from several hands-on minutes per case to several seconds. Using the tool saves time for legal professionals and courts, which see fewer mismatched cases and fewer inquiries to confirm venue in the end. The information from venue selection is also incorporated into venue protection services, offered within the e-filing process at ABC Legal for select cases.
Venue errors in submitted legal documents can be caught and fixed before they hit a court and delay the legal process. The venue protection process scans e-filing submissions for venue and service address mismatch in the hopes of catching erroneous filings. Internal systems check the documents against known address and court information. Documents that pass this check go straight to filing. The system flags the submission for review if it sees a mismatch to let the filing party know that there may be an error.
Venue selection and venue protection are just two of the tools ABC Legal uses to ensure that the attorneys, paralegals, and law firms using our services are getting the best possible legal process experience. The error-reducing effect of these tools can be amplified when combined with other product offerings, such as our instant skip trace, which assesses if the defendant’s address on the legal documents is the best-known address for them. It further streamlines the legal process from filing through to service of process. The availability of these tools is part of a concerted effort on the team’s part to limit resubmissions, stop court rejections, and further streamline the legal process from filing through service of process.
To get more legal industry best practices, helpful tips, and breakdowns on the latest in legal tech, subscribe to the ABC Legal Blog or follow us on social media.
About ABC Legal
With more than 2,000 process servers across the U.S. and 75 countries, ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing provider, as well as the Acting Central Authority to the U.S. Department of Justice. Our digital approach saves valuable time and resources, and our cloud-based solutions are compatible for use on desktop, browser, and smartphones. Docketly — an ABC Legal subsidiary — provides appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. Learn more at www.abclegal.com.