A significant percentage of legal malpractice claims stem from calendar and docket issues, according to data gathered by the American Bar Association (ABA). Together, the following make up roughly 25 percent of malpractice claims:
These claims are hard to dispute: You either made a deadline or you didn't. Any firm—but small firms especially—can't afford to put themselves at risk for a malpractice suit from something so easily preventable.
Before you brush off that statement, consider that in 2015, over 440 legal malpractice claims resulted in claimants receiving over $1 million dollars in payment, according to a profile of the ABA's study of Legal Malpractice Claims from 2012 to 2015.
To combat this risk, many firms use calendaring and docketing software to provide early warnings and reminders of due dates for filings, court dates and case-related tasks and to create an audit trail for compliance and regulation review.
We've created this guide to outline what you can expect to find in calendaring and docketing software and help you understand how it fits within the larger legal software marketplace.
Here's what we'll cover:
Calendaring and docketing software helps lawyers manage their files, tasks, deadlines and appointments surrounding cases and trials.
In an industry where missing deadlines has serious legal consequences, having a transparent, collaborative and redundant (i.e., a backed up or duplicated) system in place to manage calendaring and docketing is an important part of a firm's risk management strategy.
These tools automate what historically had been a very manual and tedious process surrounding case file maintenance and management.
Prior to automated calendaring and docketing software, a typical process looked something like this:
The dated index card is called a “tickler." Sometimes a due date on a tickler was used simply to remind the attorney to review a case and check on it's status (rather than complete a specific action item). On a recurring basis (typically once a month), office staff was responsible for reviewing the tickler box to ensure cards weren't misfiled or hadn't been overlooked.
This was how firms handled files. There was a separate, but related, process for managing schedules for appointments, court appearances and client meetings.
Now, docketing software helps firms create an automated process to manage all tasks, files and deadlines associated with cases and ensure reminders are set and schedules are accurate.
Typically, one person (or more, depending on the size of your firm) is responsible for inputting dates into the system for each case and assuring compliance with court rules and deadlines.
A separate person is responsible for managing calendars, both the individual calendars of the attorneys and shared calendars among the firm. This person reviews mail, email, faxes etc. for dates and deadlines and adds them to the appropriate schedule.
Then, the system acts to provide checks and reminders of impending due dates and case-related tasks. This not only makes the attorney and office staff more organized (and audit ready), but it promotes a better attorney-client relationship as there are less mistakes and missed deadlines.
Because the cards in the manual system were referred to as “ticklers," you may still see this term used to refer to the automated organization system in docketing software. For example, TrialWorks, is a case management software that uses a digital “tickler system."
Adding a tickler to a docket in TrialWorks
Some cloud-based systems, such as Clio, will auto-generate dates for court rules within the attorney's jurisdiction based on the “trigger" event being logged.
Adding items to the docket using “Court Rules" functionality in Clio
Calendaring and docketing tools are available as best-of-breed solutions (BoB), or as an application within a larger practice management suite.
Firms looking for highly collaborative solutions should consider cloud-based tools as they'll offer the highest degree of transparency and to-the-minute updates.
For example, if an attorney is out of the office and a paralegal receives an email about an urgent discovery item, they can update the attorney's calendar from the office. The system will alert the attorney that a new task has been added to their calendar, and the attorney can check it on their mobile device or laptop.
Maintaining strict rules and protocol around calendaring and docketing is crucial for risk management and ensuring compliance with regulations. This includes workflows dictating who adds tasks and due dates, that there are “read" receipts in the system for when the attorney receives them, that there is a saved history of when auto-generated reminders for deadlines were sent out and of course when the task was completed along with relevant documentation.
Expect to see some or all of the following capabilities as you evaluate calendaring and docketing software:
|Email integration||Integration with common email platforms, including Microsoft Outlook and Gmail. Users can create tasks or calendar events directly from email and can view appointments across devices.|
|Task management||Review cases and create task lists encompassing action items to be completed by the attorney (and firm staff) to bring the case to a close. Assign to users and schedule due dates. Save task lists to easily load workflows into future, similar cases.|
|Calendar management||View tasks, appointments, meetings and docket items by day, week, month or year. Schedule due dates in accordance with court rules. Filter by attorney, case file or client. Link related events and if there is rescheduling, due dates for related events will shift as well.|
|Document management||Upload, share and attach files to cases in a secure format. Use versioning to view and if necessary, restore previous versions. Use access controls to dictate who can access, change and share files.|
|Case management||Store and retrieve case information (including contact information, documents, tasks and schedules) in a centralized, searchable database. Check for conflicts of interest and statute of limitations.|
|Court rules/ rules-based scheduling||Import court-specified due dates for various tasks relating to your cases by jurisdiction from a database. Set up rules for events or category so dates auto-generate when that event is selected.|
|Automatic reminders||Schedule notifications to remind assigned users of upcoming deadlines for case-related tasks (e.g., court filings, client meetings, responding to discovery etc.). Set up alerts with enough lead time so the task can be completed and logged.|
|Audit trail||Save a history of all calendaring and docketing action-items, “read" receipts for tasks and a history of reminders sent out about tasks. The audit trail protects the firm and the attorney in the event of a malpractice suit and keeps users compliant with regulations.|
According to 2016 U.S. lawyer demographic research by the ABA (highlighted in this infographic by PracticePanther), 75 percent of attorneys in the private sector work for small firms with 20 or fewer practicing attorneys. Of that, 49 percent work at solo practices.
Below is how your calendaring and docketing needs should break down across your size of business:
Solo practice (one attorney): Look for email integration with a shared calendar tool, task management and matter management (i.e., BoB calendaring and docketing will suffice).
Midsize practice (21 - 50 attorneys): Everything for the small practice, and in addition look for time keeping and a legal billing solution.
Large law firm (more than 50 attorneys): Large law firms will need a comprehensive practice management solution, often one geared toward their specific practice area (see below).
Our last legal management software user report found that the number one function law firms automate with software is calendar and docketing. Based on the percentage of malpractice claims resulting from calendar and docket issues, it's not hard to see why.
However, the specific calendar and docket needs of your firm may vary based on your practice area. Common case-related calendar and docket tasks for different practice areas include:
Our service is simple and 100% free to customers like you because software vendors pay us when we connect them with quality leads. You save time and get great advice. Vendors get great referrals. It's a win for everyone!