Issue 1.7 Law Office Automation

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.

PRIORITY #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.”

PRIORITY #5 START TO COMMUNICATE AND SHARE INFORMATION

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 http://www.koolstuf.com/pgbar.htm 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.”

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