For law firms who want to stay in business and thrive, legal calendaring is a high stakes game they aim to win. One of the most common reasons for malpractice lawsuits against attorneys is missed deadlines. Every attorney understands that missing important filing and court deadlines can mean the difference between a client having a chance at winning a case and having that same case dismissed. This is why smart law firms follow best practices for legal calendaring. Let’s take a look at a few.
In any legal calendaring system, everyone needs to know what to expect and what they are responsible for. Who will be responsible for researching deadlines and court rules for filing documents? You will need a competent staff person to find out the deadlines, court dates, and various rules for different jurisdictions. This is especially important if you have cases in multiple jurisdictions. Who will enter important dates into the calendar? Once again, you will need to assign this role to someone who is competent enough to get those dates right. Who is responsible for filing documents or going to court on a specific date? You need to have a clear idea about who will be taking on these responsibilities and that information will need to be available to everyone in the firm. Fortunately, if you’re using a law firm practice management software like Smokeball, it’s easy to enter important dates and deadlines into a centralized master calendar that everyone can view. Also, all information entered into the Smokeball legal calendaring system is associated with the right matter and associates working on the case so that there is no confusion about who is responsible for what.
Stay In The Loop
Whether you’re an individual attorney working on a handful of cases or you’re a partner overseeing the work of a dozen associates, you need to know what’s happening in the law firm. When is your next court date? What documents must be filed and when? Did the other associate show up to court? Did they hit their deadline? When you have access to a master calendar such as the one in law firm practice management software like Smokeball you can see what everyone in the law firm is working on, what their court dates are, and their deadlines. And more importantly, is there anything that is getting missed? For people who are using manual calendaring systems where everyone has their own methods and their own calendar—some on paper and others on Outlook, this is impossible to do effectively. Manual systems require you to make a lot of calls and send a lot of emails before you can accurately assess whether everyone is on task regarding their deadlines and court appearance. Fortunately, there is a better way. Using law firm practice management software like Smokeball allows you to run daily or weekly reports to see upcoming deadlines for individual or multiple attorneys. You can even run daily reports to find out where you’re supposed to be for the day.
Use A Standardized System
This may go without saying but let’s just repeat it for clarity—everyone should be using the same legal calendaring system. Nothing but chaos and confusion will ensue if everyone has their own legal calendaring system. There is no way you can maintain accuracy and transparency if half of your law firm won’t use the standardized system you’ve put into place or if they only use it some of the time. If you’re using law firm practice management software like Smokeball, make sure that everyone is using that system. Requiring everyone to use the same legal calendaring system means that your master calendar will accurately reflect all of your associates’ schedules, deadlines, and court appearances. Using a standardized system will also reduce the amount of errors, missed deadlines, and forgotten court dates. Once you’ve chosen a system, make sure that everyone gets training and has ongoing opportunities for support if they have trouble understanding something about the new standardized system. Also, be sure to provide adequate training as part of your onboarding process for new hires.
Do Your Research
Court rules, deadlines, and court appearance dates can change. Make sure that you do your research to make sure that you have the right deadlines and court dates entered into the legal calendar. Even if you just handled a matter in a jurisdiction last month, make sure that you double check that their filing rules and deadlines have not changed. You should have someone specifically assigned to make sure that you’ve got the right dates and deadlines in your calendar.
Check Your Email
First off, you should have a dedicated email just for receiving court notifications. This will ensure that you don’t miss or overlook important notifications regarding changes to deadlines or court dates. A matter of fact, it may be a wise decision to have someone specifically assigned to checking court notifications and updating the master calendar when necessary.
Your legal calendaring system should be integrated with other information about your case. To improve your associates’ workflow and productivity, they should quickly be able to access information about a matter such as client contact information and case notes from the legal calendar with just a click. Fortunately, law firm practice management software like Smokeball is fully integrated with your matter details, billing, and time-tracking so that associates can quickly access matter information they need. Also, Smokeball’s legal calendaring allows associates or paralegals to quickly send emails or create documents without leaving the program. This improves workflow and increases productivity so that you can get more done quickly.
Synchronize Your Calendars
If you’re like most attorneys, you need to access your calendar from anywhere—in court when you only have access to your laptop, in the office when you prefer to use a desktop, or on the go when you only have your mobile phone. But if your calendars aren’t synchronized across platforms, you could be getting an incomplete view of your schedule. This is why your legal calendaring systems should synchronize across all platforms and provide immediate updates when changes are made. If your using law firm practice management software like Smokeball, all of your law firm’s calendar will be accurate and accessible no matter what device you’re using to view it.
Even if you have an assistant helping your with your legal calendar, you should also have reminders set up on your phone or computer that will remind you of impending deadlines. When you use law firm practice management software like Smokeball, reminders are sent automatically so that you’re not completely dependent on your assistant to nudge you when deadlines are approaching. However, you can also customize your reminders so that they don’t just pop up 15 minutes before your deadline and you’re giving yourself enough time to prepare.
Don’t wait until the last minute to input important dates into your legal calendar. When you’re creating your case matter documents, you should immediately enter important dates into your legal calendar so that you and your team can plan ahead. Also, don’t wait until the last minutes to prepare for looming deadlines, set your reminders so that you have adequate time to create documents or do any other prep work. Updating your legal calendar as soon as you have dates available also helps the rest of the law firm get a good view of what you’re working on and what your schedule really looks like.
Law firms that take their legal calendaring obligations seriously are better positioned to please clients and avoid harm to their reputation and malpractice lawsuits.