Not long ago, the American Bar Association published a report titled “The Top 10 Malpractice Traps and How to Avoid Them.” Want to know what the very first sentence of that report was?
“Calendaring errors remain a leading cause of legal malpractice claims.”
This topic is no joke. While placing a date on a calendar seems like the easiest thing in the world, it’s not. Confusing rules, undefined phrases, the difference between “court days” and “regular days,” and about 100 other things all combine to make calendaring one of the most tricky administrative tasks a legal professional can be involved in. Here are our top tips for avoiding mistakes:
#1: If you’re new to calendaring, hold onto your insecurities
Far be it from me to suggest that people not exude confidence in their everyday lives, but this is one area where a very healthy dose of humility is necessary. As referenced above, mistakes in this arena can have devastating consequences, including malpractice claims. Consequently, it is an area where literally everyone in the law firm needs to put away their egos.
The best thing you can do if you have to calendar court dates is to find the most experienced, well-respected paralegals in your firm and ask them to not only give you a tutorial but to check your work afterward. Unlike most attorneys, paralegals are educated on calendaring issues. They are also frequently put in charge of this task and make it their own personal mission to understand the intricacies.
#2: Know the rules (and have someone explain them to you)
If you’ve read any of my prior blog posts, you know that I’m a big proponent of learning and following procedural rules, including state rules, local rules, and the judges’ local-local rules. I make no exceptions when it comes to rules about calendaring. Just beware, however, that the rules in this area are often less than clear. By way of example, here’s one of my favorite provisions from the California Rules of Court:
“The time in which any act provided by these rules is to be performed is computed by excluding the first day and including the last, unless the last day is a Saturday, Sunday, or other legal holiday, and then it is also excluded.” California Rules of Court, Rule 1.10(a).
I don’t know about you, but this rule always confused the heck out of me. What does it mean to “exclude the first day?” What’s the first day? Not surprisingly, I turned to the experienced paralegals in my firm early and often when it came to figuring this stuff out.
That said, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was, “you need to learn and understand these rules for yourself.” That goes for you, too. So when you have questions about a rule, don’t just seek an easy answer — absorb that answer and carry the knowledge forward.
#3: Find definitions for undefined terms
One of the most frustrating things about calendaring is that the rules will tell you that you must do something within so many days of a triggering event. One of my favorite triggering events is “Notice of Entry.” Lots of important things must be done within X days of “Notice of Entry.”
The problem is, very few of the rules dictating these important things actually define the term “Notice of Entry.” Is it the date an order is handed down from the court? The date that electronic notice of that order is given? The date the notice is mailed to the parties? These things can make you crazy.
When faced with a conundrum such as this, be prepared to do the research. See what the case law says about the term. See if you can find the legislative history of the rule that uses the term. Ask people with more experience than you. Just be sure to do your due diligence before calendaring anything based on an undefined term.
#4: Practice risk management specific to calendaring
If you haven’t caught my drift above, let me repeat it. Calendaring mistakes are a huge deal, and calendaring is hard. In light of those two things, you can’t be too careful when implementing calendaring protocols based on risk management. Whether you decide to use a calendaring software service, develop a calendaring committee, and/or seek an outside consultant to assist your firm with calendaring, just be sure you do something. There is too much at risk to rely on things like on-the-job training.
#5: Understand best practices
Becoming proficient at calendaring isn’t just about understanding how to count days off a calendar. You have to understand technology, rules, protocols, workflow, accountability, error reporting, client communications, firm safeguards, and the like. As such, it’s a good idea for you and your firm to understand calendaring best practices and to implement those best practices immediately.
#6: Don’t fear redundancy
Even if your firm has licensed the latest, greatest software in the world when it comes to calendaring, don’t be afraid to continue to use a paper calendar. The truth is, a good, old-fashioned paper calendar hanging above your desk can often alert you to important dates better than the pop-ups your fancy software releases. Plus, the very act of writing important dates in your calendar may help you remember them without any reminders whatsoever.
As long as there are attorneys, courts, and confusing court rules, there will be calendaring mistakes. If you practice the above safeguards, however, you give your firm a better-than-average chance of avoiding malpractice. Remember to stay alert, stay humble, and ask a lot of questions.
When all else fails, get professional and technical support! The more the digital world takes over, the more you’ll need tools and processes to help you in validating all calendaring actions. Learn more about LawToolBox>>