Every law firm and lawyer has deadlines and events, such as court appearances, that they must be mindful of. Although on the decline, more than 20 percent of legal malpractice claims in the United States are attributable to administrative errors, including a law firm’s failure to calendar filing deadlines and court appearances properly. A claim for a missed filing deadline is almost impossible to defend – either the document was timely filed or not. As such, it is important that every firm establishes protocols for use of a (preferably computerized), firm-wide calendaring system. A reliable docketing system and a dedicated staff are critical to mitigating the risk inherent in deadline errors and omissions.
The first step to reducing the chance of missing time-sensitive events and deadlines is to have an appropriate docketing/calendaring control system in place. There are many computer-based docketing systems to choose from. The type of docket control system that should be utilized varies depending on the size and practice areas of your firm.
The computerized system may be a generic calendar program such as Outlook, or a more sophisticated case management program specifically designed for law firms. There are dozens of automated docket and calendaring systems being marketed by software companies. Commonly, with these programs, lawyers or their staff send e-mails or submit hand-written calendar sheets to designated staff members, who enter the data into a centralized system. The centralized system is then able to issue reminders to lawyers and staff as important dates approach.
However, in all cases, a firm should select a docketing system that is efficient, reliable and user-friendly.
Regardless of the type of docketing system utilized by a law firm, it should be tailored to meet your firm’s practice areas. For instance, if you firm has a litigation practice, the calendaring system, should, at a minimum, track and record all court appearances, events and deadlines; and maintain an action history and set reminders when an action is required. If your firm has a commercial practice, the calendaring system should record and track regulatory filing deadlines, tax return and financial statement deadlines and annual meetings.
The next step is to require that all attorneys and support staff consistently utilize the docketing system. Any docketing system is only as good as the effort put into using it. Even the most sophisticated calendaring software will not protect a law firm against a careless attorney who fails to identify and calendar an upcoming deadline.
For this reason, a written firm policy requiring participation is important to eliminating missed deadlines. The rules should apply to everyone, without exception, and a law firm’s management should set up regular training sessions, peer review and mentoring systems to reinforce participation in the firm’s docketing system and to prevent erroneous calendar entries. Indeed, every attorney and member of the firm’s support staff should be trained, on a regular basis, to operate the calendaring system and/or follow the firm’s protocols for entering calendar information.
Lastly, the key to effective calendar control is a “checks and balances system” wherein the firm’s calendar should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that dates are docketed correctly. Even if an attorney assigns the task of imputing dates and deadlines to a member of the support staff, the attorney should regularly check the accuracy of the deadlines entered into the system. On an ongoing and regular basis, each attorney must verify that deadlines have not changed or that circumstances require alterations to schedules or deadlines.
In sum, selecting an appropriate calendaring system and ensuring that the system is universally and consistently used by all attorneys and support staff will significantly reduce the risks to law firm involving deadline errors and omissions. The best calendaring system is one that is easy to use and maintain, satisfies your firm’s individual needs and is reliable.
This article was prepared by Shari Sckolnick of the New York City-based law firm of Furman Kornfeld & Brennan LLP. Shari works as part of a team of 15 lawyers and paralegals devoted to the defense of attorneys and other professionals in malpractice and disciplinary matters. For more information about the above topic or the author, please visit: www.fkblaw.com.
We trust that the above article was useful and thought provoking; however, please note that it is intended a general guide and opinion only, not a complete analysis of the issues addressed, and readers should always seek specific legal guidance on particular matters.
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