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E is the New Green
By: Dave Dutcher
Published in Legal League Quarterly, Q2 2014
The Shift from Green Cards to Electronic Return Receipt

Until 1955, if you wanted to make sure the United States Postal Service successfully delivered your legal documents, your only option was to use Registered Mail. It was a premium service designed for maximum security, tested and proven since its invention 400 years earlier during the turbulent reign of Mary I, Queen of England. But that kind of security wasn’t cheap—and not always necessary. The 1950’s were a far cry from Tudor England and by then most Americans were not concerned about having their mail intercepted. They simply wanted to know, “Did my letter make it through? And who was it delivered to?”

Certified Mail was born.

Though not as daring and adventurous as the Pony Express (1860) or as exciting as Air Mail (1918), Certified mail was an important postal innovation. It provided the tracking and delivery confirmation of Registered mail, but at a more affordable price. Today, U.S. businesses and law firms rely on it more than ever before. It is a service woven into the very fabric of our state and federal regulations as the preferred way to make sure important notices are sent and received.

And if plain Certified isn’t enough, for more than fifty years the belts-and-suspenders crowd has slept better at night by adding a return receipt to their Certified mail—a self-addressed signature card riding piggy-back on the outgoing mail. It was and still is green, very likely inspired by the green receipts and green linen tape used with English Registered Mail since the early 19th century.

Green is Good, but not Perfect.

Return Receipt “green cards,” though useful, have two big drawbacks that until recently were difficult or impossible to overcome.

First, green cards have always been labor intensive to produce. Early dot matrix printers and custom software sped up the process of adding addresses and checking boxes on the green cards, but the equipment was bulky, noisy and expensive—a solution for only the heaviest users.

The second challenge arises when the green cards come back. Piles and piles of green cards have to be sorted, filed, scanned, recorded or otherwise processed by hand every year, before they go into a long and expensive state of suspended animation in storage. That is, of course, if they come back at all—as much as 3-5% are lost, mis-delivered or destroyed before making it back to the original sender.

In 2003, the USPS brought return receipts into the 21st century using an electronic method equivalent to green cards for proof of a captured signature for delivery of Certified mail.

Electronic Signatures

Before Electronic Return Receipts (eRR) could make their debut, electronic signatures needed to be accepted by the legal community and in 2000 the Uniform Electronic Signature Act helped pave the way.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) provides a legal framework for the use of electronic signatures and records in government and business transactions. UETA makes electronic records and signatures as legal as paper and manually signed signatures. All but three states have adopted UETA . The remaining three—Illinois, New York* and Washington—have enacted their own, similar statutes governing electronic transactions. Washington’s legislation specifically permits the use of an electronic return receipt delivery confirmation whenever a statute allows or requires the use of "certified mail with a return receipt requested." (Revised Code of Washington 1.12.060)

Electronic Green Cards

Not familiar with the eRR process? It’s simple. Instead of adding a green card to the outgoing envelope, users electronically transmit details about their Certified mail with eRR option to the USPS. This can be done at a participating Post Office, or more often using a third party website or software.

When your letter is delivered, the mail carrier obtains the recipient’s signature on PS Form 3849. That form is scanned and used to prepare the eRR PDF which can be retrieved from the USPS “Track & Confirm” website or sent directly to your case management system by your mail vendor.

Firms generating large amounts of Certified mail are frequently turning to innovative third party mail fulfillment vendors to do this work for them. Integration between their case management system and the mail vendor automates the entire process for the greatest efficiency.

eRR’s benefits are significant:
    • Save at the Post Office: The most obvious benefit is lower USPS costs. Because green cards require more USPS labor to sort and      deliver, the USPS charges $2.70 for each one. The eRR option on the other hand is only $1.35—a standout benefit for companies      sending thousands of notices per month.
    • Save on Production Costs: The eRR option eliminates the need for custom-printed forms and envelopes that are expensive to      purchase and store.
    • Save on Labor: Eliminates the labor-intensive process of filling-out, tracking, filing, storing and retrieving green cards.
    • Save Time: Speeds up the process of retrieving and using return receipts as proof of delivery when needed for audits or litigation.
    • Save Cards: Prevents loss of green cards by the USPS during the return mail trip.
    • Save the Planet: eRR’s don’t consume precious resources to produce or transport.

Shift Happens

The business environment has changed dramatically since the 2008 financial crisis and the housing downturn that followed. Lenders, firms and trustees face increased regulation and competition. Processes that were effective four or five years ago have been evaluated, modified or eliminated in order to comply with the law and stay competitive. The humble work done in the mail room has had to change as well.

“Many times we find our clients do things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always done it,” says Dave Neal, Business Development Manager at IMAIL, a mail fulfillment vendor in San Diego, California. “Initially, they want to stay with green cards because they are familiar, but once we show them how much easier it is to work with eRR’s they make the change. The extra USPS savings make it an easy sell to their executive teams.”

This was confirmed by Lisa Hackney-Hatfield, Assistant Vice President – Operations, at Regional Trustee Services Corporation: “By utilizing electronic return receipts in lieu of traditional green cards we can meet our statutory requirements while reducing overall mailing costs.”

“It’s far easier to deal with a digital confirmation than a paper one,” adds Curtis Lubben, Vice President of Operations, Cal-Western Reconveyance LLC. “With paper confirmations, we need to scan each one into our system which takes time and productivity away from processors that could be doing something else with their time. Digital confirmations are a just a drag-and-drop away.”

Entities positioned to profit the most from this shift include collection agencies, financial services and health services organizations, federal, state and local agencies and courts, law firms, and insurance companies, especially when set up to automatically receive eRR’s into their case management systems.

Time to Change

It has been 450 years since mail carriers began tracking Registered Mail, almost 60 years since the introduction of Certified mail and the venerable green card, and a decade has passed since the first electronic green card became available. Innovation and change may come slowly to the postal service, but today’s companies can’t afford to wait if they want to keep pace with their competition. The next time you walk past your mail room, think about switching to electronic return receipt.

*In 2010, a New York trial court created some confusion by rejecting an electronic return receipt. However, the ruling was based on the fact that defendant, a public storage facility, had failed to mail the notice of sale by Certified mail,return receipt requested, combined with the fact that the receipt lacked the signature of the addressee. (In the Matter of Lewitin v. Manhattan Mini Storage, 2010 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5815.) Other jurisdictions have repeatedly recognized the validity of electronic return receipts.

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