Original VirtualCourthouse Articles

Issue 3.4 The Elements of Electronic Filing

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VirtualCourthouse; Issue 3.4
The Elements of Electronic Filing

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter

Electronic Filing

Electronic filing is the transmission by computer of a court pleading to the Clerk of the Court. The filing should contain all necessary case management and financial information in electronic format. It should facilitate electronic document management for the litigant, the lawyer, the clerk and the court. The elements of electronic filing are: (i) electronic transmission; (ii) case management integration; (iii) financial information integration; (iv) work process integration; (v) jurisdictional and regional diversity; (vi) supports dispute resolution; and (vii) litigation community input.

Electronic Transmission

A lot of energy and emotion is expended on electronic filing systems that are focused on the Internet. The key to this element is the movement of the electronic document from one place to another. This can be accomplished on the Internet but it can also be accomplished on a telephone line or a wide area network (WAN). Care must be taken to analyze the pluses and minuses of each method. Areas of analysis should include cost, security, stability/dependability. Analysis should also include the impact of the method chosen on the remaining elements. For instance, will the use of the Internet as opposed to a WAN support or deter financial information integration? The transmission being only one of seven elements should not allow the “political correctness” of the Internet to blind consideration of other elements.

Case Management Integration

The redundancy of the input of the same information at numerous stages of the process must be eliminated. A well-designed electronic filing system captures case management information electronically. Staff time for the input of information is kept to a minimum.

Financial Information Integration

Perhaps the most time consuming and staff consuming part of the process for filing court papers both in the law office and the court is financial. In the law office, the lawyer must go through the bookkeeper to get a filing check. In the court, the clerk has to record the check, issue a receipt and send the check to the accounting department. There should be only one step in the law office and one step in the court, both electronic.

Work Process Integration

The filing of court documents is process driven and not detail driven. One must first identify the flow of INFORMATION IN and then the flow of INFORMATION OUT. This element could be the greatest cost saving for both the lawyer and the court.

JusticeLINK, the national electronic filing pilot, overwhelmingly demonstrated that the time savings could exceed 25 percent. In the Clerk’s Office, clerical steps for the docketing of a motor tort were reduced from 168 steps to 122 steps. In a foreclosure case, 122 steps were reduced to 97 steps. In the lawyer’s office, the savings were determined to be in excess of $15,000 per lawyer.

Supports Dispute Resolution

Often the focus on the electronic transmission of the document clouds the main mission of the courts — to decide cases fairly, impartially and expeditiously. The case file is only one element of information a judge needs to decide a case. It must be integrated with the law and the facts — the other elements.

Litigation Community Input

A large and diverse group of individuals are affected by the electronic filing of pleadings. The impact of a system on these groups must be sought and considered. They include: (i) lawyers, (ii) judges, (iii) clerks of court, (iv) court administrators, (v) litigators, (vi) rules committees/policy makers, (vii) law librarians, and (viii) law schools

Jurisdictional and Regional Diversity

The great temptation is to concentrate on statewide systems. After all, the argument goes: It is better to deal with just 50 systems. This analysis ignores the reality of jurisdictional diversity and the necessity of regional diversity. Few if any states are capable of a “one-size-shoe” fix for all of the courts of the state. Limited jurisdiction courts, for instance, have a work process, case management, and financial information need that is different from general jurisdiction courts, which differs from appellate courts. The diversity between state courts and federal courts adds yet another challenge. Finally, the diversity between several states within a region of states provides an additional hurdle. Many courts already have mature systems, which cannot be radically changed. Finally, the litigants’ needs — the most important — do not stop at state, county or federal lines. An electronic filing system must be flexible enough to accommodate this diversity.

Funny Pleadings and Things:

A United States District Court Judge from Oklahoma was pushed over the edge by a group of argumentative lawyers when he issued the following order:

“Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, to Continue Trial is denied. If the recitals in the briefs from both sides are accepted at face value neither side has conducted discovery according to the letter and spirit of the Oklahoma County Bar Association Lawyer’s Creed. This is an aspirational creed not subject to enforcement by this Court, but violative conduct does call for judicial disapprobation at least. If there is a hell to which disputatious, uncivil, vituperative lawyers go, let it be one in which the damned are eternally locked in discovery disputes with other lawyers of equally repugnant attributes.”

By Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt -April 1998


Issue 3.3 Knowledge Management

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VirtualCourthouse: Issue 3.3
Knowledge Management

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Intranet, Extranet, Internet, E-Mail, Websites, Data Management, Information Management are a few of the many concepts whirling around legal decision-makers. Discerning lawyers and judges still ask the pertinent question — how will all this computer stuff help me do better work at less cost?
Twenty years ago, the big rage in computers was data management. Insurance companies, banks, courts, and other institutions took mountains of information and turned it into coded data which allowed individuals to access this information electronically. This mountain of information has exploded. There are so many mountains that it seems impossible to be able to determine which information will be helpful — so we don’t use much of the information which is available electronically.
The first symptom of information overload is being overwhelmed by the mass of information. The second symptom of overload is the inability to quickly access the information when it will help you.
The most recent technology developed to deal with the information overload problem is knowledge management (KM). Information management is the mechanical process of collecting, exchanging and analyzing data. Knowledge management goes beyond information management; it is the process of getting the right data to the right people when they need it to make a decision. Information management is dumb, while knowledge management is smart. Knowledge management is the glue that will hold together computer information for lawyers and for judges.
Lawyers and judges are primarily decision-makers. Both have assistants which aide in the decision making process. The lawyers, judges, their aides form decision-making units ¬ lawyer decision-making units (LDU) and judicial decision making unit (JDU). Each decision-making unit depends upon a base of knowledge to make a decision. The categories of information needed by each are easily identified as: (1) the facts; (2) the law; (3) the case file. The components of each of these categories might differ for the lawyer and the judge but they still maintain the same characteristics.
The computer with its ability to store previously recorded information is uniquely positioned to provide the information for the LDU and the JDU. Knowledge Management tools are now available for both lawyers and judges to begin to manage the knowledge necessary for a decision. For both decision-makers, much of the knowledge is used on repeat occasions. The law, for instance, remains the same for each rear-end accident. While storing this information to be reviewed on a future case is valuable, it is even more valuable when the facts, the law or the case file are unique.
For centuries, lawyers over time develop their own specialized knowledge. Many of us remember the specialized knowledge of deceased Judge Jerry Powers, who as a practitioner could give you a case on point for your legal question by name, volume number and page ¬ from memory. Judge Powers passed this ability on to Judge James Salmon who has passed it on to Phil Zuber. This same unique knowledge is now manageable in the virtual world.
The growth in knowledge management has been phenomenal. There are now at least fifteen major companies that offer services and products which can develop a web-enabled KM system.
Dataware , Documentum , Excalibur, Fulcrum , grapeVINE Technologies, , IBM , IDI , Inference , Intraspect Software , Lotus Development , Lycos , Oracle , Staffware , WebFlow , Xerox .

by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – March 1998

Issue 3.2 Ten Tips for Great Change

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VirtualCourthouse; Issue 3.2
Ten Tips for Great Change in 1998

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Last year’s ten tips for a virtual law office (Issue 2.3: focused on getting prepared for the information age which we live in. This year, the focus will be on how we must change the methods we use to conduct our profession. Several tips from last year will, however, carry over to 1998:

Tip 1: Embrace Change as a Friend — not an Enemy

Change is an inevitable product of the technology offered by the information age infocosim. Ordinarily, people resist, fight or ignore change. When those dynamics of resistance occur, change in people’s work patterns occur very slowly and productivity decreases. On the other hand, when change is embraced with an attitude of acceptance, people’s work patters change very fast and productivity dramatically increases.

Tip 2: Be Willing to Take Risks

Nothing ventured is nothing gained. In order to begin to use technology to your advantage, you must be willing to risk some of your time and a little bit of money. With risk comes reward. The track record for technology is that until you put your time and money at risk, your learning curve does not begin. The sooner you start the less time you will lose.

Tip 3. Read a Book on Reengineering

What is reengineering? How will it help me do more work better for less money? There are many books on the subject and if you read any they will be helpful. A check of reveals over 100 titles. Last year, I particularly profited from reading Banishing Bureaucracy by David Osborne and Peter Plastrick. Another good book is Reengineering: How the Process-Centered Organization is Changing our Work and our Lives by Michael Hammer.

Tip 4. Planning, Planning, Planning

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.”

Tip 5. Write down Your Vision

Solomon, the wisest man of all time, said “without a vision my people will perish.” In obtaining a vision, it will be helpful to write down the mission of your office.

Tip 6. Develop a Strategy

How will you accomplish your vision? It is the strategy that enables the “rubber to meet the road.” How will you introduce change into your office? How will you get the decision makers to decide in favor of your vision? How will you get the money people to make your vision a priority? It is your strategy which counts.

Tip 7. Be Enthusiastic

Enthusiasm is a choice — so choose to be enthusiastic about your vision. All the people you work with will not think you have lost your mind. They will be infected with your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious. You can change your whole office.

Tip 8. Start Using Groupware

Groupware — not to be confused with e-mail and group scheduling — is the key to creating the virtual law office or court. Groupware is defined as any application that promotes communication, collaboration and coordination among teams of people. There are presently four main organizations who provide a groupware solution: (i) IBM-Lotus Notes 4.6 powered by Domino 4.6; (ii) Microsoft-Exchange; (iii) Novel-Groupwise; and (iv) Netscape-Suitespot.

The concept of groupware is broken down into two areas: Commonware and Workflow.

Commonware consists of: (i) E-mail; (ii) calendaring/scheduling; (iii) discussion databases; and (iv) publishing document databases.

Workflow consists of three components: (i) knowledge databases; (ii) tracking applications; and (iii) workflow applications.

Tip 9. Analyze the Elements of the Paperflow in Your Office

A key to reengineering your office is to first understand how you process information. This is a tedious process but nonetheless essential. You have to know where you have been before you can figure out where you are going. In the initial phases of JusticeLINK, the Clerk’s Office analyzed each step they took in docketing a motor tort case from start to finish. They discovered 160 steps. They were then able to reengineer that process with the aid of groupware to 120 steps — a 25 percent reduction in work.

Tip 10. Get Online

If you have not yet become connected to the Internet — do it today. Once connected, start looking for information which will help you as a decision maker. Subscribe to a specialized information provider like CourtLINK, 1-800-774-7317 and look up docket information in all federal courts and soon in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County.

Funny Pleadings and Things: Some time ago, I presided over a dispute between an auto mechanic and an estate. It seems that the deceased had given the auto mechanic a one-half interest in a 1938 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce in return for the mechanic’s services to restore the Rolls. The mechanic claimed that right before the deceased passed away a further gift of the remaining one-half share was made to him. After hearing the evidence, I ruled against the mechanic. About a month later, I was assigned to try a case in St. Mary’s County. On my return home, the muffler and tailpipe of my 1982 Ford EXP fell off and began clanging on the road. I limped into the service station and announced “Does anybody have a coat hanger I can tie up my muffler with?” A mechanic under the hood of another car looked squarely into my eyes and loudly blurted “Yeah, Judge, as soon as I get the other half of that Silver Cloud.”


Issue 3.1 Electronic Filing Standards

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VirtualCourthouse: Issue 3.1

Electronic Filing  Standards
Open Systems or Closed Systems

Partnerships – Public or Private
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
The debate continues. It has now been two years since the first electronically filed pleading in JusticeLINK. After a successful pilot, evaluation by the National Center for State Courts and new business case, the public/private partnership JusticeLINK appears ready to enter its next phase.

During the last two years, events significant to the eventuality of large scale electronic filing of pleadings include the enactment of court rules enabling electronic filing of pleadings in over 15 states. The federal courts have adopted standards and several new electronic filing projects have been undertaken.

A current list of electronic filing projects include: CLADD, JusticeLINK, Federal Court projects in Ohio, Southern District of New York, New Mexico, LawPlus — a major increase in activity. A complete list of current electronic filing projects in actual use or in planning stages can be found at

The debate still continues about the adoption of standards. Many still advocate that the appropriate “open” standards should be adopted such as SGML, HTML and XML. These folks concentrate on the content of the filed pleading and its subsequent use. Others, such as the Federal Guidelines, adopt a more comprehensive approach providing guidelines in: (i) document and file format standards; (ii) process standards; (iii) communication standards; and (iv) security standards. They focus on the communication technique of the pleading. What is becoming clear is a confirmation of the inability to find a “standards consensus.” There continues to be wide diversity in the many different approaches to electronic filing solutions. This diversity should not be surprising, however, because it merely mirrors the vast political, regional, geographic and jurisdictional diversity represented by the Courts of this nation. The inability to find a “standard consensus” is further evidenced by the different approaches represented by the State rules, the different approaches adopted by Court run electronic filing projects and the different approaches adopted by commercially motivated groups.

An additional impediment to reaching a standard consensus is the complexity of the paperflow process within each court and the necessity for existing paper documents to be merged with electronically created character-based document. The electronically created document remains a small portion of the volume of filed pleadings.

The diversity heightens the need for partnering relationships: Public/private partnerships. Public/private/non-profit partnerships. Federal/state partnerships. State/County partnerships. Bar/Bench partnerships.

There has been much discussion recently about the advantages and disadvantages of the public/private partnership. Little attention has been given to the advantages of partnering with non-profit organizations. Among the types of non-profit organizations who might offer help are bar associations and educational institutions such as colleges and universities.

The value of non-profit, local, state and national bar associations has been largely overlooked. Traditionally, bar associations have been the engine of professional education in the legal community. Most all bar associations have mature, credible and valuable continuing education programs. The success of the annual ABA TechShow sets the national standard. Bar associations are ready, willing and able to formally partner in ongoing training for electronic legal enterprises. It fits their mission of serving the needs of the professionally developing lawyer.

The key missing ingredient in most electronic filing projects is document management (“DM”). Many electronic filing planners focus on the communication of the pleading rather than the process of getting the pleading to the Judge for a decision. The focus, however, must account for the mixing together in a logical workflow of electronic documents and imaged documents. This mixing of the new and the old is one of the strengths of Groupware. The advantages of Groupware-based DM are (i) it is already part of the workflow structure; (ii) it is less expensive than traditional DM software such as PCDOCS, Documentum, SAROS & Atris; and (iii) it integrates with Groupware’s own capabilities such as e-mail, scheduling and electronic form builders and knowledge databases.

CourtLink Watch

CourtLink, the national court database link, has completed mapping the screens and is headed into the production stage. Online docket information will be available to the public again early in February 1998. Those who would like to register in advance should contact CourtLink at 1-800-774-7317.

JusticeLINK Watch

Final marketing plans and software development are nearing completion. What will the new JusticeLINK look like? Continued use of Groupware LotusNotes. However, LotusNotes has matured into the Internet with the introduction of the Domino Server software. The new JusticeLINK will be Internet focused while taking advantage of the new and powerful document management aspects of Documents.Doc Domino for LotusNotes applications. Users will be able to access information with standard Web browser software. Finally, look for a dramatic cost reduction for the filing of documents in addition to the powerful workflow aspects of Groupware.

Issue 2.9 A Review

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VirtualCourthouse: Issue 2.9 A Review

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter

A Review

Time flies when you’re having fun — and technology falls into that category. Enthusiasm soars when the idea light comes on. So many tasks become easier. The virtual courthouse is coming closer to reality.

It is time for a review this month. No test is on the horizon — so relax. Over the past year, we have covered a lot of ground. All prior articles are accessible on the Internet — yes it’s time to connect.

What you will find below is a series of webpage links. If you are still living in a paper world, the links will not be as helpful as they will be in the electronic world. In the paper world, you will make a photocopy of this article, if you think it will be useful in the future. Then you will file the photocopy in one or more files and hope you or your secretary will be able to find it one day in the future. How many times have you said to your assistant “Remember that article on webpage links — where did we file it?”

However, in the electronic world you will merely double click your mouse on the web address and voila you have that webpage on your computer screen. If you want to save the webpage address, you merely click you mouse on “Add Bookmark.” Then in your bookmark file you create subtopics for your own filing system. The hotlink is created through the marking ability of HTML — Hyptertext markup language.

Before we go to the Review, let’s go through some of your Bar Association’s Webpages. As I have said before in this column, Don Patterson deserves 10 gold stars in his column for starting up the Webpage at no cost to the Bar Association. Next time you see Don, give him a great big THANK YOU!! Better yet, employ him to develop your webpage. Call him at 301-449-1200.

Some Bar Association Webpage links:

Bar Association Home Page

President Sam DeBlasis’ Message

Bar Association Schedule of Events

Civil Jury Verdicts, 1997

Memorial for Deceased Members

Circuit Court List of Non-Binding Arbitrators


THE INFOCOSM. What is it and who created the word. Check the site: Infocosom

How to get started for the TECHNOLOGICALLY CHALLENGED lawyer or judge: Technologically Challenged


JusticeLINK EXPOSURE — What courts have looked at JusticeLINK (June 1996): JusticeLINK

GROUPWARE. What is it? How can it help you? Where can you find more information about Groupware:

An ELECTRONIC LITIGATOR’S NOTEBOOK for the trial lawyer. A groupware application? JFS regional sales manager, Brigett Miklaszewski, 410-267-0142, reports that a new marketing approach has been created for the small law firm. The lawyer does not need a network but only a modem with a PC. Costs will probably be in the $3,000 to $4,000 per year range. Find our more information at Litigator’s Notebook

Five priorities for creating a VISION for a virtual law office —
Vision for a Virtual Law Office

THE INTERNET. Why is it a value to the lawyer? Is it really any good? What can it do for a lawyer? See The Internet

THE INTERNET AND LEGAL RESEARCH. Find a short list of research Internet addresses. Save them with a click of the mouse and always have a starting point.
The Internet and Legal Research

THE INTERNET AND GROUPWARE. How do you use the Internet while you work on a brief, complaint, opinion or memorandum? The Internet and Groupware

ELECTRONIC PUBLIC ACCESS (EPA) to Court information. Find out about the history of EPA in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Electronic Public Access

TEN TIPS FOR A VIRTUAL LAW OFFICE. How do I start a virtual law office? Where do I start? Here are ten good tips that will give you a great starting point.
Ten Tips for a Virtual Law Office

FOUR STEPS TO PAPER FREEDOM. How can the court manage its ever increasing paper. Here is one solution? Four Steps to Paper Freedom

PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP. What is it? How can it benefit the Court? Public/Private Partnership

LITIGATION INTEGRATION. A three-part series that presents a foundation and strategy for future development of systems which will communicate litigation information: