VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.5
Groupware

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – July 1996

First Published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Bar Association Journal – Newsletter

WordPerfect. Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro dBASE, Harvard graphics have all become popular PC computer applications which aid a lawyer in the handling and presentation of words and data on behalf of a client. Computer applications are really nothing more than a group of DOS operating commands which are executed with the stroke of one key or the click of one icon. This generation of computing software has enabled the legal profession to make great gains in productivity. It is not uncommon to hear claims that a secretary, wordprocessor. or para-legal has increased productivity by as much as 30%.

As helpful as these applications have been they do not provide solutions for an attorney’s main problem–documents, documents and more documents. While an attorney can store documents created in the personal computer in a logical computer file, access to those files is limited to one or maybe two people and the word identification is limited to eight characters. The use of eight characters requires the use of abbreviations which are probably only known by the creator. In addition the logical structure of the file storage is also unique to the creator. Documents which are not created in the office even when electronically created elsewhere are also difficult and time consuming to convert to electronic format (scanning) and then to index and make available to groups of people. Solutions to these problems have limped along with imaging systems and document management systems until the recent advent of GROUPWARE.

GROUPWARE can be defined in several different ways. To some it is the next generation of e-mail. To others it is the document add on to networking. Yet to others it is collaborative computing, To everyone it is a computer program used on networked computer workstations( a PC) which leverages networking to increase productivity. The formal definition of groupware according to Forester Research is -“Technology that communicates and organizes unpredictable information, allowing dynamic groups to interact across time and space.” (Sounds like this was developed specifically for a law office). The three C’s of groupware as reported recently in TECHREPORT in the Washington Post are Communication. Collaboration and Coordination.

The first groupware was developed by Lotus Development Corp. as its product Lotus Notes-which currently dominates the market. Groupware not only allows access to network resources but it allows people on the network to use applications together and therefore to compute together. The compelling case for groupware in the legal profession is the logical assembly of large groups of documents which can be accessed by designated groups of people, as large or small as needed.

Lotus Notes is not the only player in Groupware. Microsoft, Novell also have developments which are either on the Market or will be soon. You can get more information on the Internet at the following addresses:

http:www.lotus.com

http:www.novell.com/GroupWise/

and

http:www.acl.lanl.gov/ sunrise/sunrise. html

GROUPWARE (unlike software) is more than an application software such as WordPerfect, Quicken or Lotus 1-2-3. It is similar to an operating platform such as DOS or Windows although it does not operate by itself and must be enabled by an operating software. It does, however, enable the development of GROUPWARE applications (Notes applications) which are designed, sold and marketed independent of the GROUPWARE creator (Lotus Development Corp.) Private entreprenuers are currently developing many GROUPWARE applications which are starting to appear on the market.

Examples of Lotus Notes applications which have been developed by private companies for the legal profession are JusticeLINK developed by Anderson Consulting for electronic filing and transfer of court documents. AxisLaw, a product of Enterprise Computing, is a Notes application which handles all documents, calendering and accounting for personal injury, social security, and workers compensation cases. The Rust Consulting Group recently announced The release of the JFS Litigators’s Notebook which allows the documents and working notes for a case to be placed in a laptop computer and shared with attorneys on the case.

What equipment do you need to take advantage of Groupware? A workstation with a Pentium processor with at least 75 MHz in speed, 500 MB of hard drive capacity, 8 MB of memory, a 28.8 modem and a 15″ monitor. The workstation must be connected to a LAN (local area network) or a VAN (value added network). If you are connected to a LAN, it must have a server — a computer with a Pentium processor running at least 100 MHz, with a hard disk with at least 1 GB (1,000 MB) capacity and 16 MB of memory. The LAN must have network software such as Novel and Lotus Notes Groupware. If you are connected to a VAN such as JusticeLINK or in the future a Bar Association VAN, then you do not need the private network server.

FUNNY PLEADINGS AND THINGS

Kids have a down to earth and sometimes funny way of looking at the law. Here is a collection of some of those observations collected during the 25 years working with law related education in the schools of Maryland:

“A good thing to remember about needing a lawyer is don’t.”

“Because of computers, we won’t need lawyers in a few hundred years. Just wait and see.”

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