VirtualCourthouse; Issue 4.2
Ten Tips For a Virtual Law Office in 1999
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
TIP ONE: BECOME AN AGENT OF CHANGE. Change will not occur without a sponsor. The sponsors come from all levels of your organization ¬ from management to entry level. A key factor for a successful agent of change is enthusiasm. Success will likely pass over the unenthusiastic and strident agents of change. If you cannot be enthusiastic, you might as well not try to effect change. 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 patterns change very fast and productivity dramatically increases.
TIP TWO: UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF CHANGE. The dynamics or the patterns of change are rather predictable. When change is introduced into an organization, initially there will be some level of resistance. It should be expected that the resistance will produce a downturn in attitude and productivity. The level of resistance can be significantly reduced through the involvement of all the stakeholders in the process of planning for the change.
TIP THREE: DEFINE THE MISSION OF YOUR OFFICE.Solomon, the wisest man in all of history, says, “without a vision, my people perish.” The impact that technological change will have on your office will be lost if you have not clearly defined its mission.
TIP FOUR: ANALYZE THE WORKFLOW OF YOUR OFFICE.Analyze the Elements of the Paperflow in Your Office. A key to re-engineering 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 re-engineer that process with the aid of GroupWare to 120 steps, a 25% reduction in work.
TIP FIVE: UNDERSTAND TECHNOLOGY ¬ READ PERIODICALS. At first, a terminology barrier exists. The best way to overcome this barrier is to start reading about computers on periodic basis. A good place to start is the newspaper. Most newspapers now have a weekly section of columns about computers. Some are very basic “how to” questions and answers while others are more narrative articles on some new software or hardware. The point is that if you start using the words often, you will soon know and understand the terminology. Another good idea is to buy a different computer magazine a month off the newsstand and just read the advertisements and articles of interest.
TIP SIX: GO TO BAR CONFERENCES. Hardly a month goes by when there isn’t a bar technology conference somewhere in the Baltimore- Washington metropolitan area. The programs are high quality, practical, educational events. The quality is similar to the usual high-quality Continuing Legal Education seminars for years sponsored by local, state and national bar association leaders.
Events you should consider are the Maryland State Bar Association’s Techshow on February 19, 1999 at the BWI Marriott. Contact Pat Yevics at MSBA headquarters for details at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or check at the Bar Association’s website at http://www.msba.org. Also consider the American Bar Association’s Techshow 99 on March 18-20, 1999 in Chicago, Illinois. Check the ABA’s website at http://www.abanet.org for further details.
TIP SEVEN: TALK WITH JUDGES AND LAWYERS. Experience, we know, is a great teacher. If you make the use of computers the topic of your conversation as you talk to judges and lawyers about your cases, you will be surprised at the amount of information you will gain in a very short period of time. What works? What doesn’t work? What new developments are helpful? What new developments are duds?
TIP EIGHT: 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 loose.
TIP NINE: GET ONLINE. Becoming connected to the rest of the world should be a top priority. Internet connections are available for as low as $5 per month for limited access. Don’t overly analyze the market. The plusses and minuses of each ISP (Internet Service Provider) probably do not make that much difference to the rookie. The national online services provide the easiest opportunity to get connected. They have good online help services. They also have multiple access numbers. They do not require a large investment, usually a one-month fee of less than $20.
TIP TEN. PREPARE A BUDGET. In planning technology, you should calculate the cost through a budget process of planning. Technology improvements should become a permanent part of your financial planning. A wise technology financial plan should include not only new technology but also replacement technology. Technology evolves at a fast pace; after all, Moor’s Law calls for a doubling of process speed every 18 months.
by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – February 1999