Hopefully you are seated when you read this, as we are about to say something that will shock many of you. This article will talk about calendaring, and we want to start from the premise that most solo attorneys and small firms can get by just fine without using a fancy (and costly) practice management system that includes a calendaring function. Many practice management systems have excellent reputations, and a number of them even work well; if you think you want to invest the time and money in such a system, then you should do so. If you think you might prefer to save some of that money, pay close attention to the points we make in this column.
SPOILER ALERT: We believe that, at the end of the day, most solo and small firm attorneys can get by just fine with a generic calendaring program, such as Apple’s Calendar or Microsoft’s Outlook.
We have listed below the pieces you should address in deciding whether to use a generic calendaring program that you can get for little or no cost or to invest in a sophisticated practice management program with calendaring functions. Additionally, the points we will make in this column will also apply to your evaluation of the calendaring function of a practice management program. Note also that most practice management programs do not show up as one-trick ponies. It may be that although you do not need the calendaring functionality of such a system, the one you explore may have other features that you do need or that will help you. If this turns out to be the case, you should get the system and, if its calendar functions prove adequate, you may want to use them, too.
Tip 1: The program must run on your computer, your mobile phone, your laptop, and any tablet you use (this means that it must have an accompanying app for the tablet and/or smartphone). The data in your calendar must be portable!
Tip 2: The program must have the ability to accommodate however many calendars you need. This means that if you have three attorneys in the firm, it must accommodate at least three calendars. If you have need for a greater number of calendars, the software must have the ability to cope with that.
Tip 3: The program must make data entry simple and easy from all your devices. The longer it takes to put something into the database, the more likely you will put it off until later, thereby increasing the risk of forgetting to enter it. Similarly, if the program makes it hard to enter from any device, it makes you less likely to timely enter the information and more likely to forget it completely for lack of timely entry.
Tip 4: The program must sync automatically, accurately, regularly, and often among all your devices to ensure that whichever device you pick up you will have a complete calendar.
Tip 5: The program must work for all the others in your firm and enable them to subscribe to your calendar(s) and you to theirs. In the best of all world, it should allow each of you to calendar a meeting for the others in your firm.
Bonus Tip: If you do litigation work, you should look into the possibility of getting a rules-based calendar program (assuming that you can find one for the areas where you litigate). You don’t need to have one of these, but it makes it easier if, when you enter a trial date, the calendar automatically knows it needs to enter certain other information as to what your courts require and when. That way you don’t need to do that for each case. You will ideally find a rules-based system that will work with your calendaring system (without regard to whether you use a stand-alone system or a practice management system with calendar functions). It is somewhat less convenient to handle litigation without such a system, but it is not that big a deal. If you cannot find a rules-based system for your jurisdiction or cannot find one that works with your calendar, you can simply enter the information manually. Note, however, that not all rules-based systems were created equally, and some work better than others. You will likely find having a rules-based calendar that does not work properly far worse than not having a rules-based calendar system. Accordingly, if you consider one, check it out thoroughly and be sure that it accommodates (either automatically or by giving you the opportunity to program the information) special rules used by a particular court.