VirtualCourthouse: Issue 2.8
Litigation Integration III
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Integration is defined by Webster’s New Intercollegiate Dictionary as “to form into one, whole; to make entire; to complete; to round out; to perfect.” According to Webster, the essence of integration is to unite so as to form a whole.
Justice integration — the concept from the ’70s — as opposed to Litigation Integration — the concept of the ’90s — differs in its approach to the problem of providing information to the participants in the litigation process. On the one hand, justice integration concentrates on specific items of factual detail which the participants in the process use. On the other hand, Litigation Integration concentrates on the process of moving information to a decision maker and the process of moving the information from the decision maker to the consumer — ‘information in–information out.’
Justice integration attempts to get all participants to wear the “same size shoe.” The driving concept of justice integration is standardization. Every detailed factual element necessary for a decision must be recorded the same way and in the same sequence. Thus, last name first name cannot be last name comma first name. Nor can it be first name/last name. Justice integration allows for no flexibility nor does it embrace diversity. The focus is on detail and the requirement of the “same size shoe.”
Part of the difficulty in achieving integration of litigation information has been the failure to recognize that dispute resolving is process driven before it is detail driven. For instance, when the time limit of dispute resolution is set, the collection of detail ends and the process begins. While detail is very important, the essence of resolving disputes remains a process — ‘information in–information out.’
An examination of the dispute resolution process reveals that it is composed of three elements: (i) communication; (ii) workflow; and (iii) a base of knowledge.
In examining the process, it is useful to identify the participants. The participants can be grouped into four categories: (i) litigants; (ii) lawyers; (iii) clerks; and (iv) court. The participants in each category have unique needs yet they have a common need — the process of ‘information in–information out.’
First, communication occurs with a diverse group of individuals. Litigants talk to lawyers. Lawyers talk to witnesses, clerks, judges and investigators. Assignment clerks talk to filing clerks and judges. State’s Attorneys talk to detectives and police officers. Judges talk to adult and juvenile probation officers. An integration system must allow for this diverse group of individuals to communicate with each other in a secure fashion.
Second, interaction between people occurs in workflow — the process of completing a task and passing it on to a fellow worker. The workflow is driven by the process of ‘information in–information out.’ The litigant collects the information (who, what, where, when and why) and passes it on to the lawyer who adds the same information to a pleading and passes it on to a clerk who adds a docket number and case management element and passes it on to a judge who takes the information and combines it with evidence, makes a decision and passes it back to the clerk who files the decision, dockets the decision and passes it back to the lawyer who passes it back to the litigant — ‘information in–information out.’ An integration system must provide a foundation for workflow — a reduction of the number of steps to complete a task.
Third, a base of knowledge is used to complete a task or make a decision. Each participant — the litigant, lawyer, clerk and judge — must use databases of knowledge that are different and unique yet they are also dependent on databases of knowledge that are the same — namely, the database of knowledge is the court file maintained by the clerk. An integration system must provide the decision maker with the availability of diverse databases of knowledge from which to draw on to make a decision.
These three requirements: communication, workflow and base of knowledge are embraced by Groupware. Groupware, as we discussed last month, is defined as any application that promotes communication, collaboration and coordination among a team of people.