The Cyber Chapter exists as a "virtual" or online chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA). The ALA is an international professional organization based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. As the first chapter of its kind, the Cyber Chapter developed a unique Mission Statement to explain its purpose and goals.
Founded and chartered in 1994, the Cyber Chapter brings together legal administrators in a highly successful, volunteer-driven, peer-to-peer network. The history of the Cyber Chapter is a tribute to the vision and energy of a handful of volunteers. In the first stage of its existence, based in the ALA Forum on CompuServe, the Chapter grew quickly from its original dozen members to include more than 120 administrators from England to New Zealand.
In the beginning, Morris Schorr and Phil Hamilton, two of the "pioneers" in ALA’s CompuServe forum, "floated" an idea for a "chapter of the 21st century"; a chapter whose goal would be "to look to the future, to try to imagine the practice of law and legal administration in the next century." In true "21st Century" fashion, this "virtual’ chapter would not be organized in the traditional format of all local chapters to date, but rather, would exist "online"; thereby transcending time and space to encompass all firms throughout the country, and even throughout the world, by means of the online global CompuServe Information Service. Every ALA member, everywhere, would be able to join this forum—and the "Cyber Chapter"—to gain instant and complete access to every other online member-subscriber.
With the enthusiastic assistance of Peter Bonavich, ALA’ s Executive Director, and Debbie Curtis of the association’s headquarters staff, an application for chapter status was originated, processed, and eventually approved in June of 1994.
Prologue (December, 1993)
In a preliminary step crucial to the subsequent birth of the Cyber Chapter, ALA introduced its own BBS on CompuServe, which as a section in CompuServe’s "Court Reporters Forum" gave ALA members " . . . direct automatic access to information related to ALA and business management in legal service organizations." Thus, the electronic forum requisite to the chapter’s existence was in place.
Establishment of such a forum had been proposed at the 1993 Education Teams’ meeting in Chicago, and ALA’s MIS Director Mike Prudhom had done the preliminary investigation and evaluation of various online services. Leading advocate of the concept was Phil Hamilton, the ’93-’94 chair of the Information Systems & Technology Education Development Team. His team included ALA members Joyce Cutlip (Washington, DC), George Marley (Sacramento, CA), John Schlue and Linda Taylor (both of Denver, CO), as well as liaisons with the ALA staff and other working groups. Larry Green (GA) and John Sterback (NYC) represented the ’94 and ’95 Conference committees, and Paul Sullivan (IL) the ALA Publication Advisory Group. Mike Prudhom served as ALA’s staff liaison.
On April 3,1994, Mike Prudhom, now ALA’s Section Leader for its new CompuServe forum, met online with Ron Henry, Bruce Fuller, Amy Spintman, Phil Hamilton, Mike Gallery, and Jean Maia to conduct what became a predecessor to the regular monthly Cyber Chapter meetings which would begin just months later. The participants agreed to meet face-to-face for breakfast at the impending ALA Conference in San Francisco, to organize the structure of the forum, thereby laying the groundwork for the Cyber Chapter.
On April 18, 1994, as recounted later by those present, twelve intrepid ‘Cybernauts’ met face-to-face, many actually seeing each other for the first time. The occasion was a self-funded breakfast for members who had made it online. As a matter of fact, the only way to hear details about the breakfast was through the ALA section. The twelve members in attendance were Phil Hamilton, Peter Bonavich, Morry Schorr, Robert Elliott, Donald Bear, Glenda Raley, Ron Henry, Jean Maia, Harriet Moore, Carolyn Shafer, Jeffrey Hackett, and Mike Prudhom. The cast of what would become the core of the Cyber Chapter was now assembled.
As the conference wrapped up on April 22, 1994, Morry and Phil discussed over a hearty steak dinner the concept of a "virtual" or "online" chapter as a means of bringing ALA members world-wide together in a venue ideally suited to plan for the future of law firm administration.
Following the San Francisco conference, the ALA Forum buzzed with messages from the two, and there was clearly sufficient interest to proceed. Bylaws were drafted with the help of ALA headquarters, and electronic incorporation was discussed online.
On June 28, 1994, ALA headquarters added the final dimension to the chapter’s formation, with formal approval of its application. In a press release, ALA stated "The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) has approved the formation of the Cyber Chapter, a group of approximately 90 ALA members that will meet electronically on ALA’s Bulletin Board System (BBS) on CompuServe, it was announced here today. The Cyber Chapter is expected to receive its formal charter from ALA upon the group’s first meeting in July."
The chapter was organized with Morris E. Schorr, of Ginsburg, Stephan, Oringher & Richman in Los Angeles, CA, as the Cyber Chapter’s first president; Glenda C. Raley, of Huckabay, Munson, Rowlett & Tilley, P.A., in Little Rock, AR, as vice-president; Ronald M. Henry, of Saiber, Schlesinger, Satz & Goldstein, in Newark, NJ, as secretary; and Carolyn Shafer, of Schuler, Wilkerson, Halvorson & Williams, P.A., in West Palm Beach, FL, as treasurer. Subsequently, Michael W. Hogen, of Guess & Rudd in Anchorage, Alaska, volunteered to serve as the chapter’s historian. The history through 1995 was written by Mike Hogen, the Cyber Chapter’s first Historian, and is excerpted from the first issue of Cyber@Net, the award-winning newsletter of the Cyber Chapter.
Additionally, Michael J. Gallery of Nisen & Elliott in Chicago, IL, agreed to chair the new chapter’s Technology Section; Diana Clark of McCabe & Mack in Poughkeepsie, NY, chaired the chapter’s Human Resources section; and Jean Maia, of Blue & Williams in Metairie, LA, chaired the chapter’s Membership section.
Based on the geographic locations of the membership then online, the new Cyber Chapter was assigned by ALA to Region 2, which spans the southeastern United States from Maryland to Florida.
The First Year
On July 10, 1994 at 9:00 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, at computer terminals across the country, from New York to California, from Florida to Alaska, members of the chapter logged on to CompuServe to participate in the chapter’s inaugural meeting, thereby making "Cyber Chapter" a reality. The premier "White Paper" was presented for discussion by Morry Schorr to ask the appropriate question: "Will law firms, as we know them, survive in the 21st century?"
Meetings followed on the second Sunday evening of each month thereafter, with attendance and participation growing exponentially, month by month.
In August of 1994, the Cyber Chapter arrived by "conventional standards" as the cover story for the August/September edition of ALA News, in an article entitled "Zooming through an Electronic Universe" by Jay Strother and Michael Prudhom.
By December, 1994—one year after ALA’ s electronic forum made its debut on CompuServe, and only six months after the birth of the Cyber Chapter—the forum membership had grown to more than 170, and more than 40 administrators had formally joined the Chapter. The online membership included every director of the international Association of Legal Administrators, the majority of the headquarters staff sections, and at least 10 serving chapter presidents. The chapter was fully integrated into ALA, with active participation in its monthly meetings by the Region Director and members of the ALA Headquarters.
Unlike "traditional" meetings—in ALA or elsewhere—any member participating in the online conference could log the meeting and create a verbatim transcript in "real-time," so that the preparation and dissemination of the minutes was no longer a time-consuming task. For the benefit of members unable to be "present," however, the chapter meeting logs were electronically uploaded into the section library.
In the Future Who knows? The possibilities and potential of the chapter, and the ALA Forum itself, continue to grow and develop with each passing week and month. The interaction between the Cyber Chapter and the ALA Headquarters increases and becomes more intertwined with every log-on of their respective terminals. Among the members, products are evaluated; policies reviewed; ideas are broached, discussed, refined and implemented. All instantly. All electronically. The only thing known for sure is there is no going back. "Cyber Chapter," and the 21st century are here.
The section library continues to expand, with a growing number of resources and topical discourses. ALA directories now include individual CompuServe addresses, where known. In a decade, all this may be taken for granted, but in 1994, the Cyber Chapter helped opened a new frontier for ALA and legal administration.
The Chapter Matures—1995-96
This portion (1995-1996) of the chapter history was written by Jeff Hackett, of Baltimore, who served as chapter historian.
The year 1995 saw the Cyber Chapter mature and become an increasingly high profile Chapter in the ALA. Exerpts from Forum threads started to appear in legal newsletters and publications. The Chapter published its first newsletter called Cyber@Net and introduced its new logo featuring "Cy Bear," shown on the welcome page of this web site surfing the Internet on a computer mouse. The Chapter devoted some of its meetings to issues facing the larger ALA organization. The Cyber Chapter made presentations at the Association Annual Conference in Orlando and at some Regional Conferences, demonstrating the ALA Forum’s capabilities. The Cyber Chapter made a big splash at the Annual Educational Conference in Orlando, winning the Best New Newsletter Award, and was mentioned by several speakers over the course of the Conference.
While in Orlando, chapter members visited Epcot at Disney World, touring the Innoventions exhibit and the Disney computer animation studios.
The number of posts for the bulletin board increased as the number of Cyber Chapter members grew from 40 at the beginning of 1995 to 154 by March 15, 1996. The number of ALA members logging onto the Forum grew from 170 at the beginning of 1995 to 349 by March, 1996. During the first year, those logging on twice a week might have 50 to 100 new posts to read. A year later, that number had doubled.
The Cyber members attending the 1995 Conference planned an active social agenda with one another and made even more elaborate plans for the 1996 Conference in New Orleans. New officers were elected in July. Morry Schorr agreed to serve another term as President, Diana Clark became Secretary, Michael Gallery became Treasurer, Ron Henry took over Membership, and Kent Davis became Human Resources Chair. Phil Hamilton continued as Sergeant-at-Arms. Jeff Hackett became Historian at the end of 1995.
The Chapter Migrates from CompuServe to the Web
The Cyber Chapter experimented in late 1995 with a World Wide Web "home page" on the Internet, thanks to the good graces of Mike Prudhom, who also moderated most Cyber Chapter meetings. The Cyber Chapter and ALA began to look to the future for new venues for online activities with an expectation that the ALA would grow to have its own Forum on Compuserve or possibly move the whole show to the Internet.
Diana Clark succeeded Morry Schorr as Chapter President in April, and Ron Henry succeeded as vice-president. Jeff Hackett was elected to be secretary and Phil Hamilton agreed to serve as chapter treasurer.
The first successful "live" Internet presentations at an ALA Annual Educational Conference were presented by Cyber Chapter members at ALA’s 25th Annual Conference in New Orleans in May, 1996. Chapter members were active on ALA’s conference committee and several served as session managers or presenters at a variety of educational sessions.
After winning approval from ALA Headquarters, the Cyber Chapter web site was launched on September 7, 1996. The decision to establish an independent Internet presence was undertaken only after chapter leaders were able to confirm that ALA’s own Internet site would not provide for chapter networking or accommodate local chapter pages and discussion groups. The chapter web site was written entirely by chapter members, and all costs were borne by the chapter. Total development costs were estimated at $200, including registration of the cyberala.org domain name.
The official ALA world wide web site at alanet.org made its public debut on October 2, 1996, and quickly established itself as one of the most information-intensive sites on the Internet. Discussion groups on the site, known as Professional Development Networks (PDN’s) were added one at a time. Cyber Chapter founder and charter president Morry Schorr volunteered to serve as Section Leader of the first ALA PDN, which focused on Technology.
Diana Clark was reelected chapter president in April 1997, and Ron Henry agreed to a second term as vice-president. Bernadette Peters of Honolulu was elected as secretary, and Lew Gray of Raleigh as treasurer. This slate of officers was destined to see the Cyber Chapter complete its migration—along with ALA—to the Internet and World Wide Web. ALA withdrew from its CompuServe presence in April 1997. The termination of the "ALA Forum" in Section 17 of The Court Reporters Forum on CompuServe marked the end of a brief era, when peer-to-peer online networking among ALA members first was offered on a mass basis. The April 15 termination marked ALA’s complete break with members-only online services, as it focused its entire online presence on the Internet at alanet.org.
In May, the Cyber Chapter repeated its support of ALA Internet education at ALA’s 1997 Annual Educational Conference in Seattle. At ALA’s request, Cyber Chapter members conducted a series of live Internet navigation and education sessions in the Microsoft Learning Pavilion in ALA’s Exhibit Hall.
The chapter launched its own discussion forum in September 1997 after three months of testing and development. This forum, designed by chapter members and employing a database routine written by Rob Mallard at Service Pointe, restored much of the convenience which members had enjoyed on CompuServe.
The chapter continued to encourage the publication of monthly "white papers" on a variety of topics. In April, 1998, the first paper devoted exclusively to "Y2K" or the "Millennium Bug" was released, and days later was distributed in print form at ALA’s Annual Educational Conference in Boston. The April white paper was re-published on the ALA website and in a wide variety of local chapter newsletters and state bar association materials.