For lawyers, missing a deadline can have serious consequences. It can mean losing a case, facing malpractice claims, or damaging your reputation. And yet, despite the high stakes, keeping deadlines remains a challenge for many law firms. It's a problem that has persisted for decades, despite the fact that we've been practicing this skill since grad school. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson by now, but the reality is that sloppy scheduling and procrastination continue to plague the legal profession.
In this Filevine post, we'll explore why keeping deadlines is so difficult for lawyers and provide practical tips for developing a system to help you meet every deadline.
Streamline Your Calendar System with Filevine
In today's fast-paced legal landscape, staying on top of deadlines is more critical than ever. Unfortunately, calendaring errors remain a leading cause of malpractice claims, according to theAmerican Bar Association's Desk Guide to Legal Malpractice. To avoid costly mistakes, it's essential to have a centralized calendar system that everyone in your firm can access and update.
With a legal case management software, you can streamline your calendar system and minimize the risk of missing important deadlines. Filevine's calendar feature is designed to be easy to use, clear, and comprehensive, with one point of entry for all critical dates and appointments. This centralized approach eliminates confusion and ensures that everyone in your office is on the same page.
The calendar feature also allows you to share key dates with your team, ensuring that everyone is aware of upcoming deadlines and court dates. This feature is particularly useful for firms that handle multiple cases simultaneously, as it makes it easy to prioritize and manage your workload. With Filevine, you can even set reminders for critical dates, ensuring that you never miss a deadline.
In addition to providing an efficient and reliable calendaring system, Filevine's legal case management software offers a wide range of features designed to help you manage your cases more effectively. Fromlead management to document assembly ande-signatures, Filevine has everything you need to streamline your workflow and boost productivity.
To learn more about how Filevine can help your firm stay on top of deadlines and manage your cases more effectively, check out these real-life examples of how Filevine has helped other law firms succeed:
- How Filevine Helped a Personal Injury Law Firm Increase Efficiency and Maximize ROI
- How One Mass Torts Firm Streamlined Their Workflow and Improved Client Communication with Filevine
- Why This Immigration Law Firm Chooses Filevine for Case Management and Business Analytics
To optimize the use of a calendar system like Filevine, follow these two tricks:
Schedule regular time to focus on your calendar: Set aside a recurring time each week to analyze how you spent your time the previous week and plan for the upcoming week. This time can also be used to note any tasks or cases that required more or less time than expected, allowing you to adjust your schedule accordingly.
Schedule appointments with difficult tasks: For particularly challenging tasks, don't just add them to your task list. Instead, schedule appointments with the task, setting aside blocks of time free of distractions, just as you would for a meeting with a client. This approach allows for high-quality thinking about the project and helps to ensure it receives the necessary attention.
Use these Calendar scheduling tricks for:
- Conducting legal research
- Drafting legal documents and pleadings
- Meeting with clients, either in person or virtually
- Appearing in court for hearings or trials
- Negotiating with opposing counsel
- Managing their law firm's finances and marketing efforts
- Attending networking events and conferences
Recent events that highlight the importance of staying on top of deadlines in the legal profession include the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which led to numerous court closures and delays in case proceedings. In addition, the 2021 US Capitol riot has resulted in a surge of arrests and criminal cases, putting even more pressure on lawyers to manage their caseloads efficiently.
Rules and Chains
In addition to calendars, scheduling technology can assist in keeping deadlines for law firms. One such tool is rules-based calendaring, which can calibrate deadlines based on specific jurisdictions and areas of law. This feature is highly effective in reducing the likelihood of malpractice suits to the extent that some legal malpractice insurance agencies offer significant discounts to firms that use them. Moreover, if a court rule changes, this software can automatically recalculate dates for cases already in its system, ensuring compliance with updated deadlines.
As a Filevine customer, you already have this functionality built into your case management software. With Filevine's deadline chains, you can ensure that jurisdictional rules are always met, and your cases keep moving smoothly through their deadlines. This integrated approach between your calendar and case management software minimizes the risk of missing critical deadlines and helps your team stay organized and efficient.
Furthermore, linking your calendar directly to your case management software, such as Filevine, is one of the top tools for avoiding malpractice suits. This is especially true when your software generates a shared calendar for each case, allowing all team members working on the case to view upcoming deadlines and assignments. Having your calendar, task manager, and case files connected within an all-in-one case management system provides a comprehensive approach to deadline management.
While utilizing technology can significantly reduce the risk of missing deadlines, it's important to note that it does not guarantee perfection. To ensure effective deadline management, it's crucial to create a firm-wide culture of prioritizing and meeting deadlines. Regular training, communication, and accountability among team members can further enhance the effectiveness of the technological tools in place.
Real-life examples of how calendaring has revolutionized deadline management in the legal profession include:
- Implementation of rules-based calendaring software
- Integration of case management software with calendars
- Automation of deadline tracking and notification systems
- Use of legal practice management software with built-in deadlines management features
Establish Shared Routines
Creating shared routines in your law firm is critical to keeping everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals. Here are some best practices for establishing and maintaining effective routines:
Schedule from the start: When you receive new information, it should be added to your calendar or task management system. By managing your time from the beginning of a case, you can ensure that critical deadlines are not missed.
Break down big tasks: Dividing your projects into smaller parts allows you to assess how much time is needed to complete each component accurately. This can help you avoid underestimating the time required for a task and prevent missed deadlines.
Count backward: Once you have broken down a project into smaller parts, work backwards from the deadline to create a timeline for completing each component. This can help you stay on track and ensure that you have adequate time to complete each task.
For attorneys, keeping track of deadlines and events is essential for success, and technology has made this task more manageable than ever. Here are some tips to help lawyers stay on top of deadlines and events in the modern age:
Use task flows and case management software within Filevine, to create custom workflows that properly emphasize the importance of calendaring events and deadlines. These systems help ensure the same process is followed for every case, which means less information can fall through the cracks along the way.
Break down big tasks into smaller parts and count backward. For example, when completing a client affidavit, the milestonescould be sending the draft affidavit to the client four weeks before the deadline, getting comments from the client three weeks before, sending the final draft to the client for signing two weeks before, and getting the final signed affidavit back from the client one week before the deadline.
Create shared routines that everyone in the office follows. Schedule important deadlines as soon as information is received to prevent them from getting lost. Start managing your time at the beginning of each case, and put deadlines like statutes of limitations into your schedule right away. Firm-wide buffer requirements, such as three months between filing a lawsuit and the running of the statute of limitations, can also be helpful.
Ensure that all team members are fully trained on how to use the calendar, task manager, and case management software. Find a system that is easy to use, maintain, and teach to new personnel. Schedule recurring time each week to focus on the calendar, analyze how time was spent the previous week, and note what things required more or less time than expected.
Finally, don't be afraid of routines. The purpose of a routine is to free your brain from trying to remember tasks so that you can do focused, high-quality, creative thinking about your projects.
As reported by the American Bar Association, lawyers can face serious consequences for missed deadlines. In one notable case, a lawyer was suspended for six months after failing to file an appeal on time. In another case, a lawyer was suspended for 18 months for failing to file a client's bankruptcy petition on time.
Setting reminders is crucial for keeping track of deadlines and avoiding malpractice claims. Jett Hanna, an expert in legal malpractice insurance, suggests having both hard and soft deadlines. Hard deadlines are the final due dates for a task, while soft deadlines are spaced-out reminders to ensure that the task is being worked on consistently.
Creating tickler dates for each soft deadline can help keep everyone on track. However, relying on just one reminder for a task is often not enough. Pamela Everett Nollkamper, a scholar of law office management, recommends a tiered system of deadlines, including reminders, urging, warnings, and due dates. This helps to ensure that all critical dates are met without relying on just one reminder.
Filevine’s Deadline ChainsandReminder Schedules are an excellent tools for creating a tiered deadline system. These features allow users to create a series of reminders for each task, including reminder dates, urging dates, warning dates, and due dates.
Users can also create custom Taskflows to ensure that each case is handled consistently, with critical deadlines and reminders built into the process. By using these systems, law firms can streamline their workflow, reduce the risk of malpractice claims, and create a more efficient and effective practice.
Review and Close Cases. Inactive cases can enter a kind of office purgatory, where there’s no other work to do on them right now but they can’t be completely dropped. They still need to be on your calendar and part of the routine. Schedule times to review cases which don’t have other impending deadlines. If you’re waiting for information from someone else, schedule a time to check back to see if you have it, and perhaps send a reminder if that’s appropriate. Reviewing a floundering file might bring up necessary action and could be a step in maintaining a good relationship with clients who grow alarmed that they haven’t heard from their attorney in months.
Jett Hanna recommends that if a case doesn’t have another scheduled entry in it, it should be closed:
“Every file should have at least one schedule entry. If it doesn’t, it should be closed and the client should be told that the attorney will not be doing any further work on the matter. If there is no hard deadline, the client may lose patience with their lawyer for failing to take action. If the attorney is waiting for another event before taking action, the lawyer should set a date to check on whether the event has occurred and, if appropriate, to communicate to the client the reason that the lawyer has not taken action. While the ABA statistics do not quantify how many claims arise from client feelings of neglect, the most common grievance complaint is of neglect.”
The first case to close is the one you never accepted. In an article in The New Jersey Law Journal, malpractice-suit attorney Thaddeus Hubert explains: “Sending a prospective client whose case you’ve turned down a nonengagement letter is a fabulous risk management technique. It provides you with evidence that you did not take the case. You cannot miss a deadline on a case if you can prove you never took it.”
We often think of “routines” as something dull, to break out of. But the purpose of a routine is to free your brain from trying to remember tasks, so you do focus, high-quality, creative thinking about your projects.
Failing to investigate the facts of a case or relevant law can lead to missed deadlines. Double-check the facts of the case early on to ensure that you have all the necessary information. Additionally, even if you believe you're familiar with a certain type of case or jurisdiction, it's worth double-checking to avoid any surprises.
Real-life example: In a recent case involving a wrongful termination lawsuit, the law firm of The Spitz Law Firm missed a critical deadline because they failed to investigate a change in the relevant law. This mistake cost their client a potential settlement of over $100,000.
By implementing the tips and strategies outlined above, and staying organized in your day-to-day tasks, you can help avoid missing deadlines and ensure that you provide the best possible service to your clients.
4. Analyze Your Procrastination
Even seasoned attorneys miss deadlines when the consequences are dire. A prime example of this is the case of Mary Catherine Bonner, a Florida attorney who twice missed last-chance appeal deadlines for clients facing the death penalty. Before the US Supreme Court, arguing for another death-row prisoner whose attorney had filed late, Bonner explained: “You know, being lawyers, we always do file at the last minute.”
While it might seem that procrastination is a fundamental flaw within the legal profession, Thaddeus Hubert explains that it might not be that simple. He muses, “we can ask ourselves anecdotally whether lawyers are genetically prone to procrastinate.” When the American Bar Association started creating statistics about the causes of legal malpractice, problems with the calendars always came up as a top error. Once calendaring systems improved, however, deadlines were still missed. “[T]he ABA had to add a new category to their studies — failure to react to the calendar. It was the same old problem in yet another form.”
The reality is that even the best calendar system and the most well-defined routine can’t completely save us from our own bad habits, especially when we cavalierly accept those habits as our professional badge, like a medical doctor’s messy handwriting. Therefore, it’s essential to analyze your procrastination tendencies and come up with strategies to overcome them. Here are a few tips to help:
- Identify the root cause of your procrastination. Is it fear of failure, lack of interest, or feeling overwhelmed? Once you know the reason, it’s easier to address it.
- Break down large tasks into smaller ones. This makes them feel more manageable and less daunting.
- Use a timer to keep yourself on track. Set a specific amount of time for each task and stick to it.
- Prioritize your tasks based on importance and urgency. This helps you focus on what needs to be done first.
- Take breaks. It might seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks can actually increase productivity by reducing stress and preventing burnout.
Psychologists, business management gurus, and life-hackers all have their own tips and tricks for dealing with procrastination. While many of these strategies deal with surface-level issues, sometimes that's all you need. For instance, you might commit to doing an unpleasant task for just five minutes, knowing that once you've started, momentum usually carries you through further.
There are also apps available that can help block distracting websites, or require you to put down money that will be sent to an organization you find offensive if you don't achieve your goal in time. But if these tactics don't work, it's time to look at the bigger picture.
Ask yourself: are you avoiding specific clients or kinds of cases? If you analyze where your biggest problems are happening, you might recognize that there's an area of law that you're not familiar enough with, or that doesn't interest you as much as other projects do. Or there could be a specific kind of client that you find annoying and unpleasant. In these cases, it's worth considering refusing certain kinds of cases or clients in the future, and possibly handing them off to someone else who is better suited for the job.
However, if the problem is more general, such as being overworked and under too much stress, then no matter how well your calendar functions, you're still bound to slip up. In this case, your only options are to take on fewer cases or deal with underlying problems like inefficient work habits, the plague of distractions, or stress and other emotional strain.
These are all larger issues that we don't have enough space to address fully here. But stay tuned to the Filevine blog for regular discussions on how to avoid distractions, improve your mood, and do your best work. And if you haven't had the chance to explore our Case Management Software, feel free to ask us for a Demo.
In conclusion, being a successful lawyer requires more than just legal knowledge and skill. It requires organization, time-management, and the ability to overcome procrastination. By implementing effective calendar systems, creating a daily routine, and analyzing the root causes of procrastination, lawyers can improve their productivity and overall quality of work. Furthermore, with the help of modern technology, such as Filevine's case management software, lawyers can streamline their work processes and better manage their workload. Ultimately, by prioritizing efficiency and productivity, lawyers can better serve their clients and achieve success in their legal careers.