VirtualCourthouse: Issue 3.3
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