VirtualCourthouse; Issue 3.9
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
For the past several months we have been concentrating on the creation of an electronic case file (ECF). The ECF is important because it is one of the elements of the virtual courthouse or the virtual law office. Those elements are:
1. Creating a foundation for change.
2. Understanding the workflow of a judge and a lawyer.
3. Defining the elements.
4. Selecting the technology.
Last month, we developed the importance of creating a foundation for change. This month we will explore the importance of understanding the concept of workflow and the actual workflow of the Court and the law office.
The concept of workflow has recently received a significant amount of attention. If you were to enter the word “workflow” into an Internet search engine such as Yahoo, your search would reveal over 500 Internet sites where one form or another of workflow is discussed.
In its most universal sense, workflow means the movement of information from one worker to another for the purpose of making a decision or adding value to an ultimate product. In the law-related world this is usually a document although this is not always the case. In the narrowest sense workflow is used to denote software or a set of software tools. Much of the literature concerning workflow deals with the design and analysis of computer systems. Workflow then is both a computer software, hardware and work process concept. Another related subject is business process re-engineering (BPR).
The first step in determining the workflow of your office is to select a product and determine every single step that is necessary to complete the product. In the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County the Clerk’s Office’s first step in the electronic filing pilot project, JusticeLINK, was to determine every single step the clerk undertook to docket a motor tort (automobile accident) case from the filing of the complaint to the final judgment. To initiate this process, Janet Wyvill (Chief Civil Clerk) gathered all of her assistants in a room. They set aside a day of uninterrupted time and gathered their collective knowledge about the docketing of a motor tort case. As they identified each step they put it on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall. They kept each piece of paper as close to sequential as possible. At the end of the day they had identified 168 clerical steps which were necessary to completely docket an automobile accident case. The Clerk’s Office also went through the same process in a foreclosure case. They identified 122 steps. The process was extremely revealing to the clerks because it was the first time they had ever focused on the entire process.
The task in a law office is similar. Determine each step in the preparation of a complaint in a personal injury case. If you represent defendants then determine all of the steps in the preparation of an answer. The first order of business is to gather each individual in your office in one room and identify each step in its proper sequence. You will probably need at least the following individuals: (i) the receptionist, (ii) the paralegal, (iii) the secretary, (iv) the bookkeeper, and (iv) the lawyer. You will be surprised at how many steps you discover.
Once you have identified the steps which are necessary to complete a document or a product then it is time for business process re-engineering (BPR). BPR is the reorganization of each of the steps with the aid of technology, mainly the PC, for the purpose of reducing the time (number of steps) it takes to complete the document or product. The Court selected a team to complete civil business process re-engineering. The team first established the following goals: reduce paper, implement source data automation, reduce reliance on the case jacket, and move to an electronic case file. The BPR team through a series of 15 plus sessions designed a process which dramatically reduced the time for processing a civil case from filing to judgment.
In order to realize the benefits of the information age, the workflow must be analyzed and reengineered.
CourtLINK Watch: Electronic Access to Court records is available. The Court, the County and CourtLINK have signed the Licensing Agreement. CourtLINK is a great timesaver. With CourtLINK you can: (i) automatically search nationwide for the most up-to-date electronic dockets; (ii) combine Federal and State search results in one report; (iii) print concise, formatted reports with one click; (iv) search for “key words” (Federal index); (v) identify your usage by client identification/matter number for ease of billing; (vi) use one interface for multiple searches; and (vii) stack multiple court searches. As an important research tool, CourtLINK provides access to: (i) dockets, (ii) judgments, (iii) claims, (iv) creditors and (v) case summaries.
CourtLINK assists users with: (i) litigation history, (ii) document discovery, (iii) case management and (iv) background checks.
CourtLINK’s current online courts include: (i) Federal District, Bankruptcy and Circuit Courts of Appeals including Federal Index (U.S. Party/Case Index) for Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts; (ii) New York State Supreme Courts (civil), New York City Judgment, Docket and Liens Book and the New York County Clerk Records; (iii) Washington State Superior, District and Municipal Courts; (iv) Oregon Supreme, Appellate, Tax, Circuit and District Courts; (v) Dallas, Harris and Tarrant Counties, Texas, Courts and (vi) Prince George’s County, Maryland Courts.
CourtLINK’s intuitive design makes it easy to use. Quickly move between case detail pages and easily print reports. Download dockets to disks or files for word processing or e-mail. Receive monthly invoices sorted by user ID and client identification numbers. If you don’t have time to conduct searches yourself, send CourtLINK your search request. They’ll do them for you. You will receive search results in CourtLINK Express’ clean, concise report format by fax or FedEx within 24 hours or CourtLINK can send you a test file via e-mail or floppy disk. Depending on your needs, they may even be able to customize the format of your reports.
With CourtLINK, you pay no minimum monthly or annual fees, only $1.25 per minute. There are no upgrade charges. Your small initial cost ($50) covers licensing, program diskettes, user guides and training packets.
For further information, visit CourtLINK’s website: www.courtlink.com or call 1-800-774-7317 to pre-register.
by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – November 1998