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: http://www.mdlaw.net/) 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 Amazon.com 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.”