Here at O’Neil & Attorneys (Dallas Texas Family Lawyers), we try to keep our blog readers as well as those from Facebook and Twitter abreast of new laws that are going on. Did you know some BIG new rules snuck up on us effective January 1st? The Texas Supreme Court released new amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure effective January 1st . These rules will greatly impact civil and family lawyers alike. A couple of the changes we know about already – mandatory e-filing (here’s a list of counties that have mandatory e-filing now) and searchable pdf format – we’ve known that was coming. But, here’s a couple of rules that took me by surprise:

  • Service by e-mail: Holy cow! Now, when you e-file a document, if your opposing counsel(s) are signed up to receive e-service, you can serve them through the provider. That’s not that huge – we’ve had this ability for some time, just few signed up for it. But NOW, you can legally serve a lawyer through e-mail outside of the e-filing service provider!!! To me, this creates many potentialities for problems. Sometimes e-mail isn’t reliable. Sometimes e-mail goes to spam filters and is therefore not seen. But, alas, we have now officially moved into the electronic age!   
  • Service by fax no longer extends the deadline: How many lawyers are going to get caught with late discovery (and waived objections) by this rule? Not you, if you are reading my blog! The new rules amend Rule 4 and Rule 21a to remove the provision that added 3 days to deadline when the service is by fax. The 3-day extension only applies now when service is accomplished by old-fashioned snail mail. (Who sends stuff by snail mail anymore? Maybe only people who are trying to be sneaky?)
  • Commercial Delivery Services are now accepted: For the first time, the procedure rules acknowledge the existence of commercial delivery services like behemoths FedEx and UPS, and actually permit service via one of those services. This probably includes local courier services, since they are “commercial” if they charge you.
  • Completion of service: Service by mail has always been completed when depositing the document with the USPS. Now, the mailbox rule has been extended to commercial delivery services – service is completed when delivered to a commercial delivery service. Faxes remain delivered upon receipt by the opposing fax machine, unless it’s after 5:00 p.m. Electronic service is completed upon delivery of the e-mail to the serving party’s service provider.  A document electronically filed is timely if filed by midnight, and filings on weekends and holidays are deemed filed on the next business day.
  • Electronic signatures: Signing a pleading can now be done electronically with either an image of the signature of by typing a “/s/” followed by the lawyer’s name. Example: /s/ Michelle May O’Neil. 
  • Signature blocks: Now signature blocks must contain the email address of the lawyer.
  • Sensitive data redacted: New rule 21c requires redaction of “sensitive data” unless the information is required by statute. This includes: social security numbers, drivers license numbers, passport numbers, tax ID numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or a minor’s name and DOB. So, this new rule will prohibit family lawyers from including names of minors in captions and pleadings.

If you want to read the new rules for yourself, be my guest: Texas Supreme Court’s New Civil Rules of Procedure effective January 1st.