June 12, 2013

Is Your Firm Getting Caught In The Docket Control Trap?

According to information from the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility and the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education, more than 26 percent of all claims made against lawyers are related to administrative errors. Out of these errors, 19 percent are directly related to calendaring mistakes; 11 percent are the result of a failure to make a docket control or calendar entry; 4 percent due to subsequent failure to file, and 4 percent of a failure to react to a deadline once entered.

Unfortunately, these types of time-related litigation management errors contribute to the majority of litigation-based claims. Common time and deadline-related traps typically fall into one of these two distinct areas: 1) Missing deadlines or limitation periods and; 2) Not completing tasks in an appropriate amount of time.

For these key reasons, it’s critical to have an effective docket and calendar system in place to assure that obligations are met in a timely manner and that requirements of clients are delivered as promised. Fortunately, when it comes to this type of risk management, there are many ways in which law firms can diligently monitor and reduce the impact of potential claims on their practice by simply deploying standard docket and calendar control procedures. Some of the most critical components should include:

  • Utilizing a dual calendar and entry system that systematically cross checks processes in an effort to catch potential errors.
  • Creating and sending reminders to ensure that all open files are reviewed—regardless of activity or when no action is anticipated.
  • A centralized docket system that’s well maintained, updated daily, and controlled by more than one person in the firm.
  • A back-up system for computerized docket and calendar programs that updates automatically at the same time each day, taking care that discs are stored off premises in the event of a theft or fire.
  • A process that ensures that each member of the firm is held accountable by including tracking procedures that will identify who has made specific docket entries.
  • A cross-check system that will ensure all the necessary work on an entry has been completed prior to removing it from the system.
  • Setting up urgent reminder notices and updated task reminders well in advance of filing dates, and continuing up until the filing deadline.

As with any non-billable effort, taking the time to focus on internal processes such as docket and calendar control systems isn’t always top of mind for busy firms. But with over one-third of all malpractice claims being associated with calendar-related errors, it’s time this largely ignored liability is held up to the light.

The verdict: Make the docket and calendar control system the workhorse of your law firm.