VirtualCourthouse; Issue 2.1
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
This is the third month that this column will focus on the Internet. By way of review, you will remember that the Internet provides an attorney help in three areas: (i) access to information; (ii) ability to publish information; and (iii) communications. Last month (Issue 1.9), we looked closely at access to information and some helpful Internet sites (bookmarks). This month we will look more closely at the communications aspects of the Internet.
First, let me digress. As you may be aware, over 300 attorneys a week pass through my chambers in the scheduling, pretrial and trial activities in the Court. Many of your colleagues are beginning to see the bigger vision of productivity which the information age is offering to the legal profession. Most all of the converts are over 40, as the younger generation already has the vision. The difficulty with change is that while the under 40 generation has the vision, the over 40 generation controls the resources. The over 40 generation has to be convinced that they will make money and save time instead of losing money and time. Little by little that process is occurring. Recent converts who say a computer will be on their desks (not their secretary’s) are George Brueger, Esquire of zoning fame and Richard Finci, Esquire of trial fame. We are still working on our President, Walter Laake, Esquire, who recently confessed to not reading this article or looking at the Bar Association’s web page at (http://www.koolstuf.com). He thinks he has joined the information age because his secretary has E-Mail on her desk and his kid has a computer at home. Every day, he puts off having his fingers on a keyboard is a day he will not recapture. That day is lost forever.
Now to communications. To some the communications aspects of the Internet begin and end with E-mail. To be sure E-mail is an incredibly valuable tool. It will soon replace much of the current paper communications between lawyers and between lawyers and clients. In fact it will not be long before corporate clients will not do business with a lawyer who does not have E-mail. This is a step further from the lawyer who recently had a hard time competing for a national client because of the lack of voice mail. The fact is much of what the legal profession is now using is three to five years old in the business community.
The real power, however, is not in E-Mail but in the use of groupware. The difference is that E-Mail does not handle document databases, nor does it allow for collaborative work on a document in progress. As I have previously covered (Issue 1), Lotus Notes is the de-facto standard in the industry. The legal profession is just catching on that this software was made for the paper and document problems of the profession.
Diana d’Ambra has an excellent review of the capabilities of this software in the Spring 1996 issue of AmLaw Tech. She puts the value of this groupware to the legal profession as follows: “It’s no secret that Lotus Notes, a powerful tool for communicating and sharing information, has set the groupware standard. Moreover, unlike some other products and technologies, Lotus Notes has special appeal to law firms. Like much of lawyers’ day-to-day work, the building block of Notes is a document; the basic structure of Notes therefore mirrors the way lawyers work. Inherent in its design, Notes has document-based distributed databases that are mail-enabled with excellent built-in security capabilities. Seeing this potential, an increasing number of companies, including American International Group, Inc., USF&G Corporation (formerly U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co.), and The Dow Chemical Company, have started to use Notes as a preferred method of communication with some or all outside law firms. Dell Computers will now factory-install Notes at a very competitive pricewhen purchasing new computers. Moreover, since the purchase of Lotus by IBM, and the release of Notes 4.0 in late January, broader integration and deeper market penetration is anticipated.”
The litigation support aspects of Lotus Notes with tools such as JFS Litigators Notebook is truly amazing. This litigation support system was covered in, Issue 1.6. It is worth your time to call there representative: Brigitte Miklaszewski, Regional Sales Manager, J FeuersteinSystems, 1025 Boucher Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21403, 301/261-2601 for a demonstration. You will be inspired to join the information age when you see the productivity which can be realized.
But, the value only gets better because Lotus has developed a process which marries Lotus Notes with the Internet Web, yet keeps all of the security aspects of Notes. This is made possible by the Notes Domino web server. (http://domino.lotus.com). The Domino web server turns any Notes database into a web site, where access can be open or limited. This allows clients or others who do not have a Notes program access to notes databases with web browser software such as Netscape. You no doubt have heard of the new turn of the Internet to an Intranet. The Domino server takes this process one step further which for all practical purposes is spelled, security, security, security which has been holding back the use of the Internet by the legal profession.
Two lawyers in Iowa, David Beckman and David Hirsch are using this server to better serve their clients. They have made a conscious decision not to use the Internet to advertise, but instead to do business with their clients on the Internet. You can read more about this powerful communications ability of the Internet in the December 1996 issue of the American Bar Association Journal in an article written by these two innovative lawyers from the Midwest.