1.3 Properly Equipped VIRTUALcourthouse

VirtualCourthouse Issue 1.3
Properly Equipped VIRTUALcourthouse

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

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – May 1996

Before a Virtualcourthouse can be operational it must be properly equipped. A Virtualcourthouse also cannot function unless a Virtual Clerk’s Office is equipped and clerks trained. Of course, before a Virtualcourthouse can operate there must be an adequately equipped Virtual law office and the lawyers, paralegals and assistants must be trained. This at first blush may appear to be an overwhelming task. It should always be understood that all technological change occurs incrementally over time. How then you may ask can I build a virtual office?

In order to successfully undertake the building of a virtual office — Be it a court,clerk or law office it is necessary to have four ingredients: (i) a Vision; (ii) Enthusiasm; (iii) a Strategy, and (iv) Hard Work. Each element requires a new paradigm — a change in the mind set of how the office operates. The successful builder must think in terms of the mission of the office not how it currently functions. The builder must throw out the old way of thinking and bring in a new way of thinking. As the saying goes no more stinking thinking.


The virtual office must have the appropriate computers, local area networks (LAN ), software, work process and physical layout. None of these elements works alone. They all work together to accomplish the mission of the office.

First the personal computer — the workstation. At a minimum an IBM or Macintosh with a Pentium processor with at least 75MHZ in speed, 500MB of hard drive capacity, 8MB of memory, a modem — 28.8 and a 15 inch monitor. This machine can currently be purchased on sale through various stores at under $2,000 and the price is coming down with the marketing of the Pentium Pro processing chip. Do not worry about obsolescence because it will be obsolete at some time over the next five years. Plan to replace this basic element some where in the next 2-5 years. It wasn’t long ago when the depreciation cycle for business equipment was 10-15 years. Now because of the information revolution and the fast pace of information technology development the cycle has been reduced to 2.5 years in many businesses. When planning then , a 3 year replacement cycle is probably safe for now. How many work stations does an office need? One for every person. Now don’t panic-remember the Virtual office is built over time. But the plan must contain a method for acquisition of a work station for every person.

Next the local area network (LAN). The essence of the information revolution is connectivity. The real exponential power of computing does not kick in until the computer workstations are connected. Connection occurs first through a LAN, but does not stop there. LAN’s need to be connected to wide area networks (WAN) and value added networks (VAN) and the Internet. Virtually all of the next generation of software will have strong connectivity elements. A LAN is composed of a separate computer which functions to provide common information to all who are connected and to facilitate the transfer of information. It is really nothing more than a super workstation, although when it is used in a LAN it is called a server. A server consists of a computer with a Pentium processor running at least 100MHZ ,with a hard disk with at least 1 gigabite (GB) (1,000MB) capacity, and 16MB of memory. As the number of people who are connected increases the capacity must increase. Currently pricing starts at $3,000. Most servers can be upgraded to accommodate the majority of people.

Next the software. For the workstation Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 operating system, a wordprocessor (like Wordperfect), a spreadsheet (like Lotes 123), a database (like dBase V), communications (like ProComm+) and groupware (like Lotus Notes). This basic package can be purchased for under $500 per workstaion. LAN software will give some volume like discounts. Software for the LAN requires an operating system and network software.

The next area requiring the designer’s attention is the work process of the office. The first rule of designing an information age work process is to put the old paper process out of your mind. How can the computers best handle the required flow of information as it comes into the office is modified (work product) and then sent out of the office. Some professional change management assistance would be helpful at this stage for the larger offices. The smaller offices can use the “common sense” process.

The final area the builder must pay attention to is the physical layout of the virtual office. While I have listed this consideration last a strong argument can be made for it being at the top of the list. Remember it was Winston Churchill who said “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. ” The point is that the physical layout of an office that served a paper environment will have to be modified to serve a virtual office.


A news story circulating Cyberspace.

God places a conference call to President Clinton , President Yeltsn and Bill Gates. In the call he informs the threesome that the world is going to be destroyed in two weeks. President Clinton wanting to prepare Congress calls a joint session of Congress and tells them “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a God. The bad news is the world is going to be destroyed in two weeks.” President Yeltsen calls a press conference and says to the people of Russia ” I have bad news and bad news. The bad news is that there is a God. The bad news is that the world will be destroyed in two weeks. Bill Gates calls a meeting of all Microsoft employees and says ” I have good news and good news. The good news is that God thinks I am one of the 3 most important people in the world. The good news is that we don’t have to fix Windows 95.”


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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