The History and Future of the Anwaltsladen

a critical observation of flexibility –

“The virtual law firm come true” written by Rain Ira Schelp in early 2000. That’s right, but that’s by far not the end of the story. The Anwaltsladen is still in its early stages of development in various respects and some aspects, which will be described in this article, are more a description of a vision of the Anwalsladen, than an observation of today’s reality.

How did it all begin?

I became self-employed five years ago. At first sight an adventurous step for a Dutchman who had only been in Germany for a mere two years and who had to feed a family of four without financial bedding. On the other hand, I had been busy as a lawyer for quite a while and had managed to reach a sound market position in a special field. I started to run my office from home for financial reasons. I cooperated with others from the beginning on, everybody worked at home and on wage per hour rates. Soon files were spread all over the place. It became increasingly difficult to keep track of who did what and to get an update on the progress.

Rechtsanwalt (lawyer) Mr. Fabian Rebentrost had joined me in the meantime. The both of us had a soft-spot for computers. We discovered all parts of the online-world together. Not the Internet so much, but data-communication via a direct ISDN-connection. It surely is possible to create a data-connection via the Internet, as well. But one has to be up on latest developments regarding security and encryption. Furthermore, a direct ISDN-connection is faster.

A direct data-connection has various advantages, that telephone, telefax and email can’t offer. However one also goes crazy over the constant synchronization of data content and versions. A server was needed. The electronic file cabinet was built on the server. For the time being it was only the outgoing correspondence that was accessible online. We had the wish to scan the incoming correspondence to put it into the electronic file cabinet for a long time. Everybody we talked to advised us against our plan. The technical argument had always been that the files would be too large to transmit them via an ISDN-connection in an acceptable time. 1. We didn’t let the sceptics convince us; in the end a fax gets scanned and transmitted via the telephone, as well. We bought a scanner and tweaked around a bit and who’d have thought: a DIN A4 page down to 20 KB. That is not more than one page of a Word document, which can be as big as 40 KB. A fax takes about on minute per page. We can send 200 pages in less than 5 minutes – faster times 40.

One non-technical sceptic had told us: scanning makes no sense. You either have to scan it all or you’ll always be missing one page. And how do you manage to scan all documents? 2. The solution was to scan all mail on arrival no matter what. Regarding the incoming faxes there was a simple solution: Receive by the server, which leaves the scanned image intact and forward it to a normal fax machine.

In the meantime I had started to write a program, which could be used to feed the electronic file cabinet with information that cannot be found in the documents already in the electronic file cabinet. What began as a side-project has turned into a communication program for virtual organization and has grown into a law-firm software by now. There are attempts to develop this program going by the name “Logbuch” as an open-source software, according to the latest standards such as XML (see, within the framework of the Open Practice Tools (see . The significant parts of the infrastructure needed for a virtual organization of a law firm are therefore available to everyone free of charge and come with the possibility to adapt the software to specific needs without limitations.

So much about the technicalities, let’s turn to organization

Until then we had taken the challenge mainly as a technical one. More and more it become clear however that the organizational factor and thereafter the human factor would soon outshine the technical obstacles. The first organizational challenge was: where do we let the scanning take place. That should then also be the law-firm’s address and that’s then also where the files are going to be put. We were absolutely aware of the fact that postaddress, the file cabinet and scanner had to be at the same place despite all virtuality (paper doesn’t crash and doesn’t know a “fatal error”). Various scenarios were created and dumped again. At my place? No way. At an employee’s place? That almost worked out, but was then one bridge too far in the end. At an office-block? Almost signed the contract of rent, but chickened out. At another law firm’s? undesirable. And who’s going to scan the mail now? Hiring someone for it was against my Network-Organization belief. Contracts of hire presuppose a hierarchy, which is exactly what I didn’t want to work in anymore, neither as employee nor employer. The expectations were high, no solution in sight.

And then a talk between Fabian Rebentrost and me. When the hope to find a solution was at its lowest the inspiration hit us. A room somewhere in the city; for the computers, the files and the scanner, where we could meet ourselves and with clients. The mail was supposed to be scanned in turns, a work of one to two hours. The name was soon born, as well: “Anwaltsladen”. The Anwaltsladen was supposed to be a point of attraction, a place you’d like to go to. That excluded most modern office buildings. KuDamm, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, we looked everywhere, nothing seemed right or when it seemed right it didn’t work out with the contract. Again a low point. Then my prayers were answered: a room in a community owned building in Wannsee was offered. The surrounding, the building, the room and the ambience were right and that’s how the Anwaltsladen came to its existence two years ago.

Nobody sits under palm trees unpunished

The Anwaltsladen made the dream of freedom, efficiency, place-independence and the therefrom resulting pleasure to work come true. But that wasn’t meant to be the end of the story yet. The flexibility and freedom that we had fought for so hardly required an at least equivalent degree of self-discipline. Once the colleagues’ observing eyes are not peaking over your shoulders anymore laziness starts to crawl in. Laziness reveals itself different on all people. Some don’t start working until he’s reminded that his work is overdue , others do the juristic job but omit the, at least as important, administrative work. Yet others do all what is needed but forget to inform others whose work depend on knowing that the work got done by the former. And yet others try to roll off the work they don’t like onto others. In short all human shortcomings that place and time interconnectedness cover up a bit surface increasingly more. Although I judge myself to be of disciplined character I literally caught myself being lazy every day, which doesn’t go well with the Anwaltsladen. Fighting my weaker self was and is hard work. Ultimately, if I show laziness, how can I expect discipline from others?

Seen technologically and from an organizational point of view “flexible collaboration” is possible. And one doesn’t necessarily have to opt for the farreaching virtuality of the Anwaltsladen. A weakened form is imaginable, as well. But every degree of flexibility requires and even degree of self-discipline from the flexible collaborator and from his colleagues. For the creation of flexible forms of work it is these factors that have to be looked out for in potential candidates as well as in those that can offer such forms of work.

In my experience it is only a small amount of the potential candidates that truly (and I mean truly, including all consequences) desires such form of flexibility and that is capable of working within such a flexible organization (or in case of the Anwaltsladen to work in the absence of an organization). Women tend to start acting once they’ve been given the feeling that they’re really needed only. Men tend to want to impress, he wants to order a secretary around for example. All things that are not possible in this form of organization.

The smaller part of the potential candidates, the ones that really want to overcome these tendencies, have to work hard on being capable of working in such a flexible form of organization every day. In my opinion it is best to have worked in a conventional form of organization over various years, to have learned what it means to carry responsibility, to know that things can go wrong, to have experienced various forms of collaboration before really committing oneself to develop the discipline required by the Anwaltsladen.

“The smaller part” that has taken the challenges from the Anwaltsladen consists of promovendi, mothers, soon to be mothers, trainees and odd-jobbers. Three children have been born and the forth is on its way! Each of these “participators” decides on his own, if, when, where and how much she or he works.

The future

I wrote in the beginning that many aspects of the Anwaltsladen are in the phase of vision.

At the time of writing only one law-firm is part of the Anwaltsladen in Wannsee, instead of the three or four for which it was build up. The efforts to be a host to more law-firms have failed so far.

Although the Anwaltsladen in Wannsee is a place where you like to go and be, its place is not central enough to be a good meeting point for all. The aspect “meeting point” needs to take more shape. I’m envisioning an Anwaltladen innercity, where you would drink a cappuccino in a cosy atmosphere and where self-discipline to get back to work will be tested even more.

Everybody that wants to set up an Anwaltsladen 3 can count on my support and me. This article and future developments will take visible form on

Berlin, March 2001

Original in German by Murk Muller
Translation (draft version) by Lukas Bühl



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