Practicing law in the midst of a worldwide pandemic isn’t easy. For the past year and a half, legal professionals have struggled to adapt to their newfound reality of virtual court appearances, online meetings and remote work.
Because the court system was dramatically impacted by social distancing requirements, the unpredictability of the pandemic has been particularly difficult for litigators. Court closures and the updated court appearances that follow often present unique hurdles for litigators struggling to stay on top of their ever-changing schedules.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to that unique problem: rules-based calendaring tools. This useful software automatically applies the court rules and statutory deadlines of specific jurisdictions to the due dates of a particular matter at the start of a case. There’s no need to manually enter each and every deadline for a litigation matter. Instead, rules-based calendaring systems do this for you and will likewise automatically recalculate deadlines if, and when, key due dates change.
If you’re a litigator, you’re probably already familiar with this type of software, since it has been around for many years. Before the advent of cloud-based software, rules-based calendaring tools could be found in premise-based law practice management software programs. However, that’s rarely the case these days, now that most companies are shelving their premises-based legal software tools and transitioning their law firm customers to cloud-based software offerings.
The social distancing requirements of the pandemic have only served to accelerate the move to cloud-based software. Because this trend has been so prevalent in recent years, I focus primarily on cloud-based software in this column. Not only is cloud-based legal software increasingly the only option available, it also offers a host of benefits including 24/7 accessibility from any location, convenience and mobility.
For those reasons, most rules-based calendaring tools are now cloud-based. Of note is that when it comes to rules-based calendaring tools, cloud-based software offers a particularly useful benefit: the data is housed on the software provider’s cloud servers, which means there’s no need to download new files or manually update the software when court rules change. Instead, the court rules are regularly updated by the software provider on the back end and the changes are then automatically applied to your firm’s calendars.
Of course, it’s important to note that when you use cloud-based software, you are entrusting your law firm’s data to a third party and thus have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
Stand-alone vs. LPM software
With that in mind, here are some of your options when it comes to rules-based calendaring tools. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive but provides a good overview of the products that are currently available.
With rules-based calendaring software, you can either use stand-alone rules-based calendaring software or law practice management software that offers rules-based calendaring features.
First and foremost, when choosing a rules-based calendaring tool, you’ll have to determine whether the software you’re considering includes the calendar rules for the courts and jurisdictions that are relevant to your firm. Next, ensure that the tool works with the calendar system used by your law firm. If the answer to either question is no, then you can rule it out from the get-go.
Now, on to two of the most well-known stand-alone rules-based calendaring tools for lawyers: LawToolBox and CalendarRules. Both integrate with Outlook calendars. LawToolBox is also offered as an add-in for Microsoft Office 365 and syncs with Google Calendar, Lotus Notes, iCal, along with many other calendar systems.
Another option to consider is JuraLaw. Pricing for each rules-based calendaring tool varies greatly depending on a number of factors, including the number of lawyers, the number and type of courts included in the subscription, and whether you choose an annual or monthly subscription.
Next, let’s take a look at your options when it comes to the rules-based calendaring tools offered in law practice management software. Nowadays, if you’re already using law practice management software, there’s a good chance that your firm’s chosen system already includes access to rules-based calendaring features.
When I last wrote about rules-based calendaring in this column in 2018, this wasn’t necessarily the case. But since that time, many of the most popular law practice management programs have added rules-based calendaring features to their software, including Practice Panther, MyCase (note that I am affiliated with MyCase), Clio and Rocket Matter.
The benefit of using law practice management software that includes rules-based calendaring functionality is that doing so centralizes all of your firm’s case-related and calendar data, including litigation deadlines, into one software platform. As a result, the court rules and deadlines for your firm’s litigation matters can be easily accessed and viewed in the law practice management software system. Additionally, any updates to the deadlines for any given case will be automatically applied across the calendars of the litigation team working on the matter in your firm.
One issue to keep in mind when researching law practice management software with rules-based calendaring functionality is price. Depending on how it is set up and priced, you may have to either pay subscription fees for both the calendaring software and the practice management software, or you may be required to pay a higher subscription cost for the practice management software to have access to the rules-based calendaring software. So it’s important to carefully research the applicable fees and integration costs when vetting rules-based calendaring features in law practice management software.
And last, but not least, understand that the features will vary from one program to the next, so make sure to test drive the rules-based calendaring software before committing to it. Some will include features and courts that others will not. However, depending on your firm’s needs, the additional features may not be a must-have. So it’s important to ensure that you fully understand the features available before making a commitment.