There are many solutions on the market that will help automate and streamline the process of calendaring events and deadlines associated with legal matters. These types of tools are key to insuring that a law firm or legal department is managing the risk associated with the possibility of missing a deadline, and more importantly, the consequences associated with missing a deadline which include losing the case, financial impacts to your client, reputational damage associated with the loss, and any malpractice claims that may result.
In addition to managing risk, legal calendaring solutions can help your firm improve legal workflows, which leads to improved overall efficiency and productivity, client satisfaction, and ultimately, helps improve your bottom line.
If you are considering adding a deadline calculation tool to your practice, due diligence on the provider, an assessment of the key features of the platform, and understanding the scope of support resources are all important considerations. Here are some tips on what to look for:
1. Understand the qualifications of the team maintaining the rules content.
One of the most important features of a reliable rules-based calendaring program is, of course, the court rules and the people, processes, and systems that keep them current. First, ask whether the rules provider owns the database or accesses the database from a third party. Control of the database is critical for accuracy and timely delivery of rules. Too many paths from the source can create confusion for the end user. Next, it is important to understand whether the provider has a full-time staff of attorneys and other legal professionals who are experienced in rules amendments and the implications that changes to the rules have on matter deadline calculations.
2. Ask about the rules update process and frequency.
Timely updates to the court rules are critical to ensuring that deadlines are not missed, so it’s imperative that you are receiving timely notification of any changes to the rules affecting the matters you are working on. The solution provider should be able to provide information on the frequency of rules updates, the process involved in notifying you and the other users in your organization, and how much information will be provided about the changes so that you are informed about the need to recalculate deadlines and events.
3. Consider whether your firm would benefit from the ability to customize rules sets.
The core functionality of a deadline calculation system lies in the ability for users to simply select the jurisdiction in which the matter is pending, and enter the date of the triggering event in the case, then the application should load all the appropriate events in the rules set. There are many situations where attorneys will need to strictly adhere to the sequence of events as outlined by the applicable rules, however, there are also situations where as a matter of practice, certain events are not typically observed, for example, service by mail may be obsolete for certain cases. In these instances, you will want to be able to remove, modify, or hide the unnecessary events.
Your firm may also have standardized practices that would make sense to add to the sequence of events, for example, you may want to add a client meeting to the calendar two days prior to all court hearings. To accommodate these practice needs, the system should have the flexibility to allow for customization. Some systems will also accommodate for the creation of completely custom rules sets templates, this functionality comes into play for case types that are governed by scheduling orders, for jurisdictions where the rules are not yet available online, or for transactional or administrative matters that are not governed by court rules.
4. Is the system collaborative and does it offer centralized management?
Given the necessity of more collaborative, team-based working environments for most law firms and legal departments, it’s important that your calendaring system also be collaborative in that the attorneys, administrators, and partners have access to the system and key events. Systems with a global calendar which displays events across matters, matter teams, and clients provides a high-level view of all the activities of the firm or department during a given period of time, and the ability to drill down to specific timelines for matters or by attorney is also key functionality that provides value to the team. There may be certain functions that would be most appropriate for docketing clerks or paralegals to have access to, such as the customization features outlined in #3, so the system should allow for various levels of user permissions. Finally, there should be access controls that allow users to deny global visibility permissions for private matters, such as in the event of a conflict of interest, or to protect the privacy of a minor.
5. Evaluate the system and support tools for general ease of use.
Rules-based calendaring software is not simple data entry; however, the product should provide reasonable ease of use. Everyone in a legal organization regardless of position or title will potentially have access to the software, and the system should be intuitive enough that hours of training are not required to navigate the system and access key event information.
6. Does the accessibility of the product match the needs of your team?
Understand accessibility needs and the mobility of those practicing law throughout the organization. Throughout a legal department or law firm, practicing attorneys have varying tiers of blended calendars they access for professional and personal use. The rules-based calendar should integrate with Microsoft® Outlook and also with other online calendars and mobile devices. Is the system cloud-based, allowing for increased accessibility and back-up? With cloud-based systems you may want to consider whether the provider owns the data storage facilities, or if they partner with a third party for data hosting.
7. Understand the resources available for training and support.
Training and support are important considerations when vetting a third-party supplier or rules-based calendaring systems. While each provider will say they provide quality training and support, users know this isn’t always true. Ask whether your potential solution provider is accessible for support via email, chat, phone, or in-person and whether there is an on-demand library of support topics. Can you access technical or product support 24×7, or do you need to wait until phones open up in the morning? Lastly, the most important question is often forgotten – are training and support included in the subscription as part of the total cost of ownership of the tool or is this available for an extra charge?
8. What level of tracking and reporting are available?
When changes get made, it’s always important to see who’s responsible and when the change was recorded to track against risk. This feature, while basic, is a must-have. The ability to export or download reports of event change history is also an important feature and should be available in the products you are considering. In addition, for day-to-day time and resource management purposes, users should have the ability to export calendaring reports in varying level of detail such as with the ability to customize timeframes, matter teams, clients, and other variables.
9. How is the product priced and packaged?
As with any technology, the pricing and packaging of the product will be an important consideration in your decision to invest. Options may include more “on demand” or a la carte type models such as pricing by the case, by the user, or by the court, while others will only provide access by subscription, and will include access to the applicable court rules in the price. With these different models, consider how you intend to use the product, for how long, and how extensively within your firm or organization. Also consider whether you need to show proof of ownership of a deadline calculation tool to meet the requirements of your professional liability insurer, for those who do require proof, annual subscriptions are likely the most desirable to qualify.
10. Consider the history, stability, and reputation of the company.
Providers with a credible reputation and long-documented history in the legal industry should have a baseline advantage in your selection process. The provider’s years of experience in this specialty and length of time delivering this data should carry big weight for your decision in choosing a partner. The breadth of a provider’s customer base, high levels of responsiveness, and a solid customer service track record are solid indicators of the provider’s commitment to maintaining an ongoing relationship with your firm. Prior to partnering with a solution provider, look at the health of the company. Is the company large enough to sustain market fluctuations? Is there enough of a user base that contributes to a healthy bottom line? Does the company have staying power, and has it been in business more than 20 years?
There are a variety of needs and considerations to take into account when considering an investment in technology. These considerations should get you started if you are considering a legal calendaring solution that will move you toward optimizing your firm or legal department for risk mitigation, compliance with deadlines, managing streamlined workflow, and productivity.