Issue 3.8 Creating A Foundation For Change

VirtualCourthouse; Issue 3.8
Creating A Foundation For Change

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Last month we discussed the four steps to creating an electronic case file (ECF). Those steps are: (i) creating a foundation for change; (ii) understanding the workflow of a judge and a lawyer; (iii) defining the elements; and (iv) selecting the technology.

Over the next four months, we will examine these four steps in more detail. But first let’s step back from the detail and ponder for a moment where we are going with all of this technology. Where are we headed? Maybe more importantly, why? First, if technology does not pass the test of doing a better job, more efficiently and for less money, then it should not be considered or used. Second, we are headed to a virtual office — that is an office where all of the necessary ingredients for making a decision are in electronic format. Thus, (i) the case file, (ii) the facts, and (iii) the law are accessible on a personal computer for the decision-maker — the lawyer or judge.

The first step to creating an ECF is creating a foundation for change. Changing the way we do things is at the very least an uncomfortable topic. It is uncomfortable and threatening largely due to the unknown. However, change is also the engine that allows for better performance for less money — it permits doing more with less. How important are the dynamics of change to a successful technology? A good way to see what is important is to examine a successful project.

Last year a team from the court went to visit the Ford Motor Credit branch office in Columbia, Maryland, to see how they were converting all of their paper records to electronic records. They were creating an electronic case file. The project has now been successfully completed and is being replicated in other Ford Motor Credit regional offices. The total budget for the project was allocated: 33% for change management and project management 33% for software and 33% for hardware. So the money says that change management is equally important with the software and the hardware.

It is important to recognize that there is a dynamic known as change that enables technology. This dynamic, the dynamic of change, accounts for change-related stress, resistance to change and performance response to change. Whenever new technology is introduced into the workplace, it should be expected that there would be an initial downturn in attitudes and productivity. The key is to minimize the downturns. This is accomplished through leadership, sponsorship and involving the stakeholders in the process of designing and implementing the change. It is essential to change the environment from resistance to commitment.

The gap between the existing environment and the new technology environment is traditionally bridged with training. However, training, although important, will not successfully bridge the gap. Before training occurs there needs to be an effort to build leadership, sponsorship and ownership. This building process occurs through communication, compensation and motivation. The goal is to create a climate of continuous improvement.

The best models for managing change include an organizational element and an individual element. On the organizational side there has to be leadership and navigation. Leadership is the process of providing the ultimate vision, mission and direction. I once heard an individual say that leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do. Great leadership is getting people to do what they do not want to do and to be excited about it. Navigation is the process of mapping the course of the change journey. On the individual side there are the elements of enablement and ownership. Enablement is the development of the tools and techniques that will be used to enable the change to take place. Traditionally this has been the training element. Ownership is the process of encouraging the individual to buy into the change initiative.

If these dynamics of change are recognized and understood and time and effort are spent in implementing them before the new technology arrives, then you have built a solid foundation for change. Your new technology not only will not disrupt your work place but the technology will make you able to accomplish more for your clients, quicker and for less money. You will be in a better competitive position.

Internet Anecdotes

Lawyers keep debating how helpful the Internet is in finding information. Recently, two of them stopped by my chambers to give me a success story and a failure story. First the failure.

Bob Matty, not known for his Internet advocacy, but generally recognized as a top-notch lawyer and basketball expert, wanted to find out information about basketball coaches’ clinics. He had been given some information about an Internet site that could locate clinics. He enlisted the help of his family and learned how to turn the computer on, how to operate and double-click the mouse and how to get on the Internet. He then went to the search engine, put all of the information in and double-clicked the search button. Several seconds later, he was informed “No Matches.” Now he thinks this Internet talk is overblown. Never mind that when he picked up the phone and made a half dozen calls he still found no matches. Now for the success story.

Rick Daniels, also recognized as a top-notch lawyer, was recently called by a client who said his accountant had just told him he needed a Rabbi Trust. Having exhausted his own library he went to his neighbor Carlton Green’s law office and still could find no reference to a Rabbi Trust. Thinking that it might have something to do with religion, he called several friends and still had no luck. So he said to himself — what the heck — and entered the words ‘Rabbi Trust’ into the Yahoo search engine on the Internet. The result 39 matches, 4 of which referred Rick to Internet sites which fully briefed him on an IRS ruling involving a Group of Rabbis’ retirement plan. He even found an IRS-approved form for the trust.

CourtLINK Watch:

Electronic Access to Court records is available. The Court, the County and CourtLINK have signed the Licensing Agreement. Watch for a formal announcement for subscription information. You also should check for opening dates at the CourtLINK website: or call 1-800-774-7317 to pre-register.

by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – October 1998


Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (Ret.)

Upon his retirement in 1999 Judge Ahalt commenced a career as an ADR neutral and technology innovator.

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