1.2 Promise of a VIRTUALcourthouse

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.2
Promise of a VIRTUALcourthouse

First Published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Bar Association Journal – Newsletter

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – April 1996

It has often been said that “People who stop investing in the future cease to have one.” The promise of the VIRTUAlcourthouse is not only what the electronic file can do for the Clerk’s Office and the courtroom although that in itself is enormous. The promise of the VIRTUALcourthouse is also how it empowers the lawyer to develop the virtual law office. The virtual law office does not come without an investment of time and money. It also does not come without the acceptance of a reasonable amount of risk. The history of the recent virtual office in other applications is a high reward for those who are out in front. As the saying goes you “lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

The debate has begun — What is the value of JusticeLINK, the electronic filing public\private partnership with the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County and Andersen Consulting-Lotus Notes and Compaq? Many who initially look a the cost of JusticeLINK [$175,$15\filing and $.50\min] will say that the cost is too high. But wait, let’s look at the total picture. Most lawyers give up 40-60% of their fee income to overhead. So every $1 overhead that can be saved is a $1 to income. In a VIRTUAL law office space costs go down, transportation cost go down, lookup and find costs go down, repetition costs go down.


These concepts are not dreams and fantasies. They are actually happening. Tim Merging, Esq., a lawyer with offices in Baltimore, Hagerstown and Richmond has a LotusNotes based virtual law office. He reported at the Maryland State Bar Mid-Winter Meeting that his cost savings are substantial. He is so convinced that the concepts are sound that he has formed a LotusNotes application development firm called Enterprise Computing, Inc. They have developed a notes application called AXISlaw. For information call Colleen M. Buddemeyer at 1-800-368-1095.

The real advantage of getting started now is that the development is just beginning. The practical effect of this is that there will not be a high time and cost investment on the front end. The amount of time and money acquired will increase incrementally over time. The incremental increase will allow the wise lawyer to re-engineer his business process slowly over time. The wise lawyer will find himself with a healthy cost reduction and increased productivity a year or two into the development of the virtual law office. On the other hand the foot dragging lawyer whose knee jerk analysis says it cost too much will face a steeper financial investment, Sadly, the foot dragging lawyer will also be at a competitive disadvantage and face the difficult task of maintaining a client base enticed by the more efficient.


A recent study by a JusticeLINK team of lawyers, change managers, marketing representatives and a judge concluded that an average litigation lawyer would save about $7,000 per year. This analysis approached the savings by evaluating four areas that would be instantly affected by the use of Justice LINK.

Before scrutinizing each area some assumptions were made. It was assumed that the average litigation lawyer handled a caseload of 100 cases per year. It was also assumed that there were 10 filings made in each case a year for a total of 1,000 filings per year. $71.11 per hour per lawyer. $17.78 per hour per assistant. 5% of filings are done by courier or hand delivered. 95% are filed by mail.

The five areas affected are: (i) Preparing filings; (ii) Retyping interrogatories; (iii) Review case status and file; (iv) Send certificates of service; and (v) Filing documents.


How does the technologically challenged lawyer get over the fear of the computer. There are no doubt many ways to get started. Most of us think in terms of our education and immediately conclude “Well, I need to sign up for a class.” This approach is very successful but is time consuming and therefore often gets put into the “I’ll do later pile” Another method is to get your hands on a computer and do the self learn routine. Believe it or not you do not need any technical knowledge to make the thing work — it is easier in many respects than the VCR that your son or daughter had to operate. This self teach method can be supplemented with a wide variety of resources such as books, audios, videos, magazines, your neighbor or workmate. The important thing is to get started so that the learning curve can begin.

I got started just that way. I bought a computer, took it home, set it up, and started to install software. First a wordprocessor, then a checkbook and finally an online service. The key is to find something that you want to do several times a week for an hour or so. What worked for me was the checkbook and the online service. It was also helpful to start reading computer columns in the newspaper and subscribe to a magazine. I choose Home Office Computing because it wasn’t very technical and provided a lot of useful information. By doing these two things I began to learn some of the vocabulary and to see a picture with the details fitting into the larger picture. In a matter of 6 months I was surprising myself at my ability to actually get something done.



Mr. Robert I. Macfarlane

Andersen Consulting


CivicLink CONTACT:

Claudia Stevens Maddox

Ameritech Information Access


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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