Where to Go to Schedule Your Meeting
One of my greatest frustrations when I was still in active practice was the time I wasted trying to schedule meetings, depositions, and telephone conferences. The shared experience of attorneys, especially solo attorneys, is what appears to be an endless game of email and telephone tag. As a result of my frustration, I was especially glad to find and start using a web-based scheduling program. Since I first started using a program, there have been a plethora of programs that have appeared for use, and I find that different programs serve different needs. I have found that I consistently use TimeBridge.com as my scheduling tool of choice. It is simple, intuitive, and generally well received by other users. I select 5 date and time choices, and then an email is sent to my selected attendees. The attendees can respond without my having to speak with each attendee, without a long exchange of telephone messages, and without the frustration typically associated with scheduling by telephone. If I want to make the scheduling even easier, then I can share my availability with anyone. (I don’t use the tool myself, but it can be useful internally.) Once a date and time is selected, you can add a free telephone conference, and the dial-in instructions will be sent out, or you can add, for a premium, web-conference capability. It is also nice to have TimeBridge send out automated email and SMS reminders.
I also often use Doodle.com to help schedule events with larger groups where I don’t necessarily need every person to attend, but I want to find the best date for the most people. With Doodle I can suggest more options then with TimeBridge. Again, an email is sent to the selected recipients who can then review the suggestions and indicate the dates and times that each is available. Based on the responses I can set a meeting time that works for the greatest number of people. Like TimeBridge, it has free and premium services. Doodle has a branded enterprise solution that is ad-free and promotes your message when scheduling meetings. It allows recipients of the invitation to quickly reply, track replies, and send out reminders. You can also use Doodle to poll the recipients on scheduling questions. If you don’t know where folks want to meet for lunch, suggest two options and see which wins. MyDoodle polls can be displayed in iCal, Live, and Yahoo for further flexibility.
The fee-based program ScheduleOnline is aimed at providing solutions for enterprisewide planning and scheduling needs, but also markets itself as a tool for managing multiple calendars in one place. The monthly cost is set according to the number of users and increases incrementally. The program feels more complex to use and thus may cause more confusion for some users. The program allows you to suggest only one time and date, and if the potential attendees have synchronized their calendars, it has a simple tool that clearly defines conflicts in schedules, and it has a tool for checking availability to suggest the optimal meeting time, even taking time zone differences into account. The preference settings allow you to customize the calendar to improve its performance for you, including the ability to view multiple calendars. Its bonus features are the extranet tools to allow better interaction between you and your customers. These tools include ScheduleOnline’s web-based email client, a social communication message board, a tool for IM chats, and the ability to share documents through its cloud-based file manager. Palm users will be happy to know that this program provides wireless synchronization with the Palm.
MeetingWizard.com is also a free Internet tool built to simplify scheduling by allowing you to suggest multiple meeting dates and times to potential attendees who receive email invitations. It is much more akin to TimeBridge and Doodle then ScheduleOnline. After suggesting alternative times for a meeting, the program sends a summary update of the responses. It will also send confirmations of meeting times to all attendees and it can be used to automatically send reminders to all attendees. This program also allows the organizer to send a personalized note, and will allow you to quickly send an email when a meeting has been cancelled. Like TimeBridge it also provides tools to create agendas to distribute before the meeting begins.
All of these tools will synchronize events with Outlook for powerful integration of calendaring tools. In addition, most programs will also integrate with Google Calendar and iCal. Doodle extends its integration to Lotus Notes while ScheduleOnline works with Palm products.
While I find these products incredibly helpful, I also find that I cannot always get attorneys or their staff to respond to the scheduling emails for varying reasons. Thus, I have learned the necessity of introducing the concept of online scheduling to the individuals that I wish to participate with an offer to help them get started using the program of choice. However, whenever I get full participation, everyone agrees that the ease of scheduling meetings has greatly improved.
Rodney S. Dowell is director of the Massachusetts Law Practice Management Assistance Program, which works with attorneys to implement and institutionalize better business practices.
© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.