Regardless of the process, attorney oversight is crucial to the success of a docketing system. Attorneys are responsible for the accuracy of the deadlines whether they input the dates personally or a staff member is assigned that task.¹
The calendaring workflow process is the glue that bonds the staffing requirements to the calendaring software solution. Without an effective workflow process, the risk to deadline errors and omissions can actually increase, even with the smartest staff and the best software.
While 100% participation in a docketing solution is necessary to achieve compliance with written policies and mitigate risks to the firm, no firm will get to that number because there always will be an attorney who does not engage fully, remains technologically challenged, or is just too disorganized. The goal is to get as high a degree of participation as possible and continue to pursue those that do not.
There are so many different ways to create workflow processes that no method is a one-size-fits-all for firms. It all depends on the firm’s culture, technology, geography, and enforcement. The best process is the one that works well for your firm.
Firms tend to create their workflow process for docketing so it matches existing methods for other organizational resources such as conflicts clearance, new business intake, mail and faxes, etc. Some firms will benefit from a centralized department examining mail and faxes for deadlines and limitations while other firms are just too large for that practice. Many firms use forms to notify docketing specialists of important deadlines while others are paperless and use email as their primary source for requests.
Automation is a key ingredient to a successful docketing workflow process. It allows specialists to free up their time so they can pay closer attention to details while keeping overhead costs low for the firm. An effective docketing system should have the following automations to help with workflow:
- Ability to schedule reports for certain days, times, attorneys, matters, etc. for automated distribution. For example, if a firm of 600 attorneys sends out weekly calendar reports on Fridays to the assigned attorneys and staff, and the software users must manually set the parameters of the report and send the reports by attorney or office by email, it takes about 3 minutes per attorney to complete the distribution. Automated reporting can save the firm about 1560 hours if the users did not have to send the reports manually. Plus, during the distribution process, the software may prohibit the user from working further until the reports are completed.
- Allow users to quickly and efficiently assign and reassign attorneys and staff to matters in the docketing system. All firms face the fact that there will be departing attorneys, laterals arriving every year, and reassignment of attorneys and staff to existing matters. For example, if a firm is handling 100 asbestos cases across the country and a new attorney is assigned to every one of those cases, it can take a lot of hours or days just to add that attorney to every matter and future event in the system. Automating this task will reduce the time a user must spend handling such a project and spend more time calendaring critical deadlines.
- Synchronize deadlines with Outlook Calendar or similar applications. A good system allows a firm to reduce the clutter that attorneys face in their calendars by easily filtering events that are not applicable to the matter. If a firm has 5 entries per day manually added to Outlook Calendar by a secretary and it takes about 4 minutes per entry, the firm can save at least 80 hours per year per secretary if the docketing system automatically pushes deadlines to Outlook and adjusts any changes made to updates.
The best workflow processes promote teamwork among attorneys and staff and are easy to follow. A complicated workflow process that is difficult to understand or does not benefit certain group practices will cause unwilling participants to put such tasks aside for other tasks and that’s when deadline omissions occur.
Is it time to evaluate your workflow process?
Excerpt taken from You Get What You Pay For: Best Practice in Choosing a Calendaring System white paper.
¹ Richmond, Douglas R. (2012) “Neglect, Excusable and Otherwise,” Seton Hall Circuit Review: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 3.