All Posts By

Monty Ahalt

Issue 1.7 Law Office Automation

By | blog, Original VirtualCourthouse Articles | No Comments

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.7
Office Automation

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – October 1996

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

So how are you coming with your law office automation plan. Have you written your plan down? Have you determined your priorities? Maybe you have put it on the to do pile or you have just flat out ignored the subject. Well like it or not the information age has started and every day we postpone planning our involvement is a day we have lost . It just makes the learning curve longer. On the other hand each day we spend executing a plan puts us one day ahead of the procrastinators.

Solomon the wisest of all time said “without vision my people perish.” What is your vision? More importantly what is your strategy? Let me suggest that a starting point is to create your priorities.

PRIORITY # 1 – GET A COMPUTER ON YOUR DESK. Now let’s get specific. This priority does not mean to get a computer on your secretary’s desk or on your law clerk’s or paralegal’s desk although that is also essential. You will not appreciate the value and power of the information age until you get your hands on a computer and you cannot get your hands on a computer until you have one on your desk. Better yet a computer at home (not for the kids) and the office. You can provide this solution with a laptop and docking station.

PRIORITY # 2 – GET YOUR HANDS ON THE COMPUTER. In order to appreciate the productivity of the computer you have to use an application that has some daily use. Checkbook, calendar and the like are good places to start. The interesting dynamic which occurs once you start is experiencing the learning curve. Each time you use the computer you learn something new, which you build upon the next time you use the computer. My colleague Judge Tom Smith got his learning curve started with the computer game Minesweeper. By the way, he claims to hold some sort of record. Next time you see him issue a challenge.

PRIORITY # – 3 GET CONNECTED. Next after you have mastered the keyboard and the basics of Windows, you need to get on-line. The easiest on-line environment is either America Online or CompuServe. The cost is only $9.95 per month. Both of these services are user friendly, have lots of information and support E-mail. In addition they also provide access to the Internet, although not as powerful as some Internet Service Providers (ISP). Once connected try to find as many people as you can to communicate with. This type of connection can serve as a very elementary network, especially for the solo practitioner. A group of five lawyers could each get a CompuServe account for under $50.00 per month and have the beginnings of a network.

Of course, the better solution is to acquire a local area network (LAN). LANs come in all shapes and sizes from the simple, which basically support E-mail to the more complex which would support an Intranet. In today’s environment you can start simple and add the more complex as your needs and finances allow.


History has shown that if you do not have a plan you will do nothing. You know “shoot at nothing and you are sure to hit it”. Of course a plan must be written and not just in your mind. A plan which is just in your mind is not really a goal. It is nothing more than a dream. On the other hand there is power in putting the plan down on paper. When you commit something to writing, commitment to achievement follows naturally. It is like New York Yankee great Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, when you get there you will be lost.”


The first order of business is to start collecting E-mail addresses. Once you put the address in your address book you will never have to type it again. With the click of the mouse you can address a message to many people.

The second order of business is to try the Internet for some information which you need. A good place to start is the new Prince George’s Bar Association web page where you can read the last news letter or get the calender of events try Next month I will review more Internet locations where you can find useful information.

Funny Pleadings and Things

Here’s another one from our youth:

“Once I had a chance to read a whole stack of law books. Things they say in law books are only to look at, not to understand.”

The reason below was given by plaintiff’s counsel in requesting a continuance:

“If the trial does in fact run two days as expected and undersigned counsel is present for the trial, undersigned’s fiancee will likely kill him prior to his August 1, 1995 wedding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Undersigned plaintiff’s counsel is engaged to a lovely defense attorney that he first met during a settlement conference in front of Judge Jacob Levin on St. Patrick’s Day 1993.”

Juror Confusion: “My panel was herded into a courtroom where we approached the rail as our names were called. Mrs. Mumphrey was called, she raised her right hand and after a moment of silence the State’s Attorney turned around, looked at Mrs. Mumphrey, and said, ‘Swear Mrs. Mumphrey.” Mrs. Mumphrey answered “I do.” The next person approached the rail. The defense said “Swear.” The farmer intoned “expletive.”

1.6 Connections

By | blog, Original VirtualCourthouse Articles | No Comments

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.6 – Connections

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – September 1996

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

Connections…Connections…Connections. Those who have them are successful. Those who do not constantly struggle to stay competitive. Connections are valuable for many reasons, but one of the most important is — obtaining information.. Those who have access to critical information make better decisions and can have the upperhand with their adversaries.

Connections are usually obtained through long years of experience and repeated contact with many people. On the other hand, in the age of information technology connections are obtained electronically by accessing databases of information. Until recently the use of multiple databases which were run on different operating systems which are formatted differently was an extremely cumbersome process which could require many hours of time. However, with the advent of groupware it is now possible to access multiple databases and to copy portions of those databases into organized notebooks of informatiom. Recently JfeursteinSystems has announced The JFS Litigator’s Notebook. This software uses Lotus Notes and therefore connects lawyers and their staff to all types of case infromation such as discovery documents, key passages of testimony, notes, memos, profiles of witnesses regardless of the source of the information. The Notebook in addition to connecting people to information connects lawyers to each other. Thus, lawyers in the same office, lawyers in multiple locations of the same firm, in-house lawyers, outside counsel, traveling lawyers, and staff stay connected and are able to share information, ideas and work together on a shared Notebook. The Notebook is set up on a case-by-case basis and is capable of creating an entire electronic file. Each separate Notebook can have its own team of lawyers–in some casese one or two lawyers and in other cases dozens or even hundreds. The Litigator’s Notebook is designed to handle all kinds of information including documents, memos, notes, images, graphics, spreadsheets, electronically filed pleadings and to keep everything immediately accessable. The Notebook can be used as an electronic file which has subfiles or notebooks for: (i) discovery documents; (ii) research memoranda; (iii) witness profiles; (iv) correspondence; (v) interview notes; (vi) to do lists; (vii) spreadsheets, sketches and graphics; (viii) status information; (ix) electronic mail and (x) any other catagory the user wishes to designate. The Notebook also allows the creation of binders so that the information can be simultaneously organized into issue binders, fact area binders, cron files, exhibit files, and subject files. This organization allows each document to be filed in multiple binders and files. Thus you can file a discovery document with every witness to which it relates and at the same time update automatically a cron file. The Notebook alows a team of lawyers, paralegals and lawclerks to work collaboratively on a case. The team can: (i) submit draft briefs to the team for commentary and discussion; (ii) raise questions and get ideas form other team members; (iii) send memos to single team members, (iv) plan tasks and follow their progress; (v) develop organizational approaches to the case and share it with team members; and (vi) discuss how to deal with diffucult witnesses, hot documents, and problems issues. The Notebook allows a lawyer to have complete access to a file while traveling. It also allows for files to be shared with a corporate client. For More info about The Litigator’s Notebook, please contact: Brigitte Miklaszewski Regional Sales Manager J FeuersteinSystems 1025 Boucher Avenue Annapolis, MD 21403 301/261-2601 Funny Pleadings and Things You never know what you will find in pleadings. Most all of the infoirmation is rather dull and repetitive. On a few occasions, lawyers do show a sense of humor: Good Use of Literature: “As will be evidenced in a further analysis, the pleadings most recently filed bear more than a passing resemblance to “Alice in Wonderland” where the clocks run backwards and in some rooms everything is upside down.” Interrogatory Counting: “There is no rational way in which these seventeen interrogatories can be counted as more than thirty interrogatories. Since the plaintiff has sued six defendants, he should be counting his blessings instead of interrogatories.” Copyright: Arthur M. Monty Ahalt, 1996

1.5 Groupware

By | blog, Original VirtualCourthouse Articles | No Comments

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.5

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:

and 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.


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.”

1.4 Access to Court Documents

By | blog, Original VirtualCourthouse Articles | No Comments

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.4
Access to Court Documents

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

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – June 1996

First there was CivicLink, then there was JusticeLINK, and now there is CourtLink. You will be hearing more and more about CourtLink in the near future. But I saw it last week at an Electronic Access conference sponsored by the Institute for Court Management-National Center for State Courts. CourtLink is a court data base access program developed by Data West. They first developed a database access system for all courts in the State of Washington.. They have added to the online system 82 of 84 federal courts. You will soon see their system on the East Coast. Hopefully in Prince George’s County.

CourtLink is a Windows-based service for court record access. Uses for Court Link according to Data West literature and their demonstration at the Electronic Access conference include the following: Background checks including, charges, convictions, and repeat offense patterns. Litigation history including, types of cases, judgments, case status, amounts of judgments, names of parties and their representatives. Document discovery including, kinds of documents filed, day-to-day listing of all documents. Case management including case event schedule, court calendars, fees and payment records.

Minimum system requirements to use CourtLink are: 486 or higher microprocessor, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, 4MB or more of memory, 3MB of available hard disk space, a 3.5″ high density or 5.25 high density disk drive, a Hayes-compatible asynchronous modem or compatible modem pool.

CourtLink can be reached for a demo disk or subscription at 1-800-774-7317 or by E-mail at

JusticeLINK continues to receive an incredible amount of local, national and international attention. On the local front representatives from the following courts have come to the Prince George’s County Courthouse to see a demonstration or have expressed strong interest:

Circuit Court for Baltimore County

Circuit Court for Baltimore City

Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County

Superior Court for the District of Columbia

Circuit Court for Fairfax County

From around the Nation the following courts have come to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County to see a demonstration or have expressed a strong interest:

Administrative Office of the Courts for New Jersey

United States Office of Child Support

United States Justice Department

JEDDI Corporation

United States Administrative Office of the Courts

United States Bankruptcy Court for the District Court of Maryland for the Southern Division

Denton County, Texas,

Harris County (Houston), Texas

Dade County (Miami), Florida

Lexington, Kentucky

Chesapeake, Virginia

Sarasota, Florida

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

1st Judicial Circuit of Illinois

Nashville, Tennessee

Sante Fe, New Mexico

Kane County, Illinois Circuit Court


Medina, Ohio Municipal Court

State Court Administrator of Montana

13th Judicial Circuit Court Tampa, Florida

Ninth Circuit Court Kalamazoo, Michigan

Williamson County, Illinois Circuit Court

North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts

18th Judicial District Court Wichita, Kansas

Florida Office of the State Court Administrator

Bakersfield, California Municipal Court

2nd Circuit United States Court of Appeals

Charlotte County, Florida Circuit Court

United States District Court Southern District of New York

Passaic County New Jersey

Circuit Court Sanford, Florida

Superior Court of Arizona

Massillon, Ohio Municipal Court

Billings, Montana City Court

Michigan State Court Administrator

Federal Judiciary U. S. Courts

Missouri State Court Administrator

Shelby County Memphis, Tennessee

From around the globe:

Australia Courts

Italian Courts

United Kingdom Courts

Trinidad Courts

Israel Courts

Ontario Canada Courts

San Juan Puerto Rico Courts

It is obvious from this type of interest generated in just one year that the time for electronic filing is NOW. Will you be a part of the development and profit or will you wait because it costs too much time and money and end up losing business to those who are willing to make the investment now?


A court room story recently told by a retired judge now lawyer Paul Dorf.

While cross-examining a scorned wife who had been berating her husband throughout the trial, the husband’s lawyer asked the wife “please would you just tell the Judge what it is you want from my client.” The wife responded ” I just want him to leave me as he found me.” The lawyer then asked “And how is that?” The wife yelled “Widowed!”

1.3 Properly Equipped VIRTUALcourthouse

By | blog, Original VirtualCourthouse Articles | No Comments

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.3
Properly Equipped VIRTUALcourthouse

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

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – May 1996

Before a Virtualcourthouse can be operational it must be properly equipped. A Virtualcourthouse also cannot function unless a Virtual Clerk’s Office is equipped and clerks trained. Of course, before a Virtualcourthouse can operate there must be an adequately equipped Virtual law office and the lawyers, paralegals and assistants must be trained. This at first blush may appear to be an overwhelming task. It should always be understood that all technological change occurs incrementally over time. How then you may ask can I build a virtual office?

In order to successfully undertake the building of a virtual office — Be it a court,clerk or law office it is necessary to have four ingredients: (i) a Vision; (ii) Enthusiasm; (iii) a Strategy, and (iv) Hard Work. Each element requires a new paradigm — a change in the mind set of how the office operates. The successful builder must think in terms of the mission of the office not how it currently functions. The builder must throw out the old way of thinking and bring in a new way of thinking. As the saying goes no more stinking thinking.


The virtual office must have the appropriate computers, local area networks (LAN ), software, work process and physical layout. None of these elements works alone. They all work together to accomplish the mission of the office.

First the personal computer — the workstation. At a minimum an IBM or Macintosh with a Pentium processor with at least 75MHZ in speed, 500MB of hard drive capacity, 8MB of memory, a modem — 28.8 and a 15 inch monitor. This machine can currently be purchased on sale through various stores at under $2,000 and the price is coming down with the marketing of the Pentium Pro processing chip. Do not worry about obsolescence because it will be obsolete at some time over the next five years. Plan to replace this basic element some where in the next 2-5 years. It wasn’t long ago when the depreciation cycle for business equipment was 10-15 years. Now because of the information revolution and the fast pace of information technology development the cycle has been reduced to 2.5 years in many businesses. When planning then , a 3 year replacement cycle is probably safe for now. How many work stations does an office need? One for every person. Now don’t panic-remember the Virtual office is built over time. But the plan must contain a method for acquisition of a work station for every person.

Next the local area network (LAN). The essence of the information revolution is connectivity. The real exponential power of computing does not kick in until the computer workstations are connected. Connection occurs first through a LAN, but does not stop there. LAN’s need to be connected to wide area networks (WAN) and value added networks (VAN) and the Internet. Virtually all of the next generation of software will have strong connectivity elements. A LAN is composed of a separate computer which functions to provide common information to all who are connected and to facilitate the transfer of information. It is really nothing more than a super workstation, although when it is used in a LAN it is called a server. A server consists of a computer with a Pentium processor running at least 100MHZ ,with a hard disk with at least 1 gigabite (GB) (1,000MB) capacity, and 16MB of memory. As the number of people who are connected increases the capacity must increase. Currently pricing starts at $3,000. Most servers can be upgraded to accommodate the majority of people.

Next the software. For the workstation Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 operating system, a wordprocessor (like Wordperfect), a spreadsheet (like Lotes 123), a database (like dBase V), communications (like ProComm+) and groupware (like Lotus Notes). This basic package can be purchased for under $500 per workstaion. LAN software will give some volume like discounts. Software for the LAN requires an operating system and network software.

The next area requiring the designer’s attention is the work process of the office. The first rule of designing an information age work process is to put the old paper process out of your mind. How can the computers best handle the required flow of information as it comes into the office is modified (work product) and then sent out of the office. Some professional change management assistance would be helpful at this stage for the larger offices. The smaller offices can use the “common sense” process.

The final area the builder must pay attention to is the physical layout of the virtual office. While I have listed this consideration last a strong argument can be made for it being at the top of the list. Remember it was Winston Churchill who said “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. ” The point is that the physical layout of an office that served a paper environment will have to be modified to serve a virtual office.


A news story circulating Cyberspace.

God places a conference call to President Clinton , President Yeltsn and Bill Gates. In the call he informs the threesome that the world is going to be destroyed in two weeks. President Clinton wanting to prepare Congress calls a joint session of Congress and tells them “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a God. The bad news is the world is going to be destroyed in two weeks.” President Yeltsen calls a press conference and says to the people of Russia ” I have bad news and bad news. The bad news is that there is a God. The bad news is that the world will be destroyed in two weeks. Bill Gates calls a meeting of all Microsoft employees and says ” I have good news and good news. The good news is that God thinks I am one of the 3 most important people in the world. The good news is that we don’t have to fix Windows 95.”