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OFFICE PROCEDURES

Reduce your risk of malpractice claims with a centralized calendar system

At one time, the word “deadline” referred to a marked section of a prison yard that, if breached by a prisoner, would result in that prisoner being shot. Today, the word refers to a time limit that, if breached, doesn’t usually result in gunfire, but still has serious consequences.

What’s the problem?

Failure to meet a deadline, such as a statute of limitations, and other related calendaring issues continue to be the cause of the majority of legal malpractice claims in the United States. Yet despite this risk, many law firms still do not have a proper calendaring system in place or have not yet made use of the technology that can improve their systems.

Related reading: New client intake form

How deadlines are missed

Even lawyers and support staff who diligently record deadlines and reminder dates into a calendar—be it online or the old-fashioned paper version—still run the risk of missing an important date. Here are just a few ways it can happen:

Lack of knowledge. Each court has its own rules about when things need to be submitted and its own way of describing these requirements. Occasionally this information is misinterpreted or simply not known.

Miscalculation of deadlines. State and federal holidays, weekends and other closed office dates all complicate things when you’re calculating deadlines.

Deleted deadlines. Data stored only in one person’s online calendar can be deleted when a computer gets reformatted or crashes.

Deadlines not shared. When a lawyer gets sick or goes on vacation, often the laptop goes with them. That’s a problem for the covering lawyer if that laptop contains file reminders and calendar information.

Deadlines not adequately preceded by a reminder date. If there is material to prepare or actions to be taken before a deadline, it doesn’t help to know about the deadline on the day of the deadline.

Related reading: Docket entries checklist

What to do

Put your firm’s calendar on a shared server. If individual calendars are still used in addition to this central calendar, ensure that they can be “synched up” regularly.

Take a look at how your office currently calendars and circulates information. What’s the flow of pleadings and documents? Even if you’re a small firm, this review is an essential step that will help you understand the gaps in your system and the opportunities to calendar an event.

Implement a policy that all projects, events and deadlines are to be added to the centralized calendar, and document your calendaring practices and procedures. Ideally, all important legal deadlines associated with a file, and their reminder dates, should be added to the calendar at these stages:

  • When completing a new client information sheet;
  • When opening a new file;
  • When handling a file’s incoming mail.

Conclusion

The most important step in successfully implementing a centralized calendar system is to ensure that all lawyers and support staff are properly trained in how to access the calendar and why it is essential to keep it up-to-date. Review the process regularly to confirm firm-wide compliance with the system. If just one lawyer or staff member is exempt from the established calendaring process, your firm is at risk of missing a deadline.


Related reading:

5 benefits of rules-based calendaring software

Use a standard calendar entry format firm-wide

Model Tool: Calendar control self-review checklist


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