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Flash back to the year 2000, when the movie Miss Congeniality came out. During the pageant interviews, one contestant was asked to describe the perfect date, to which she replied, “April 25. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.” Before we dwell on the fact that we can now say “flash back to the year 2000,” it is worth noting how dates and calendaring and the myriad rules can get confusing. So confusing, in fact, that calendaring issues remain the leading cause of legal malpractice claims.
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability profiled legal malpractice claims from 2012 to 2015 (available for purchase at the ABA Store here), and the results indicate that docketing and calendaring errors were the primary cause of malpractice suits. The study showed that more than 34 percent of malpractice claims result from calendar issues, including:
- failure to file (10.7 percent);
- improper calendaring (7.4 percent);
- failure to know or learn deadlines (6.4 percent);
- lack of follow-up (4.2 percent);
- failure to react to a court calendar (3.6 percent); and
- clerical errors (2 percent).
In light of these sobering statistics, this month we are offering up some tips to help you manage your calendar.
Tip 1: Keep your calendar as mobile as possible. As we now live in the cloud, your calendaring system should be accessible wherever you go. If not, then it at least needs to synchronize with easily accessible calendars such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook’s built-in Calendar. Many practice management systems incorporate a calendaring component into their suite, but be wary of potential problems with two-way calendar synchronization. If you have a calendar at the office, one at home and/or on your phone, you are at risk of missing something if you forget to review one or the other. You need a single, synchronized calendar that you can access and update anywhere.
Tip 2: Set up separate tickler and calendar systems. You need to have a tickler and calendar system in place. The tickler system, sometimes called a diary system, is the one that reminds you to work on files. This system assists you in meeting your deadlines and prevents files (and clients) from being neglected. This regular file review system is critical to malpractice prevention. When you set up a matter, set the tickler system with periodic review dates. The time between these dates should not exceed 30 days, even during periods with no activity. If nothing has occurred between your periodic reviews, use the time scheduled to send a short update to your client.
Your calendar should be a separate system from your tickler system. Treat the real estate on your calendar as sacred; only put on things you will do. Bill directly from your calendar, if possible. If not, then at least remember to review and include your calendar entries in your billing.
Tip 3: Always maintain critical information in your calendar appointments. You want to avoid shuffling between multiple programs, looking for telephone numbers, appropriate contact names, etc. Put phone numbers (and don’t forget the extensions or conference codes) in the header of the calendar entry.
Tip 4: Confirm and calendar your meetings in Outlook. To schedule your meeting in Outlook, go to the Calendar and select the date and time you wish to schedule the meeting. Under the Appointment tab of the calendar entry is a button that reads “Invite Attendees”; click the button and it will add a “To” line to the entry, allowing you to add the e-mail addresses or contact information of the people you would like to include in the meeting.
You can also share your calendar with others to assist with scheduling, allowing them to view as much or as little detail as you like. To do so, open an e-mail message and go to the Insert tab. There you will see a Calendar button; selecting it allows you to set the range and the level of detail you would like to share. Generally, experts recommend you share “Availability Only,” which lets the viewer see your time as either “Free,” “Busy,” or “Tentative.” You can also set work hours, define what days fall in your workweek and add in holidays by clicking the “Set working hours” hyperlink on this screen.
Tip 5: Review your calendar at the end of the day. Before you leave for the evening, scan the day ahead. This will help you avoid missing early morning appointments and give you some peace of mind knowing you are prepared for the next day.
Bonus tip 6: Be sure to back up your calendar. Religiously calendaring everything does you no good if you lose your calendar to a hard drive failure or it becomes corrupted.
There are an abundance of tools to assist you in devising and managing your calendar system. Do not be shy about using them. Take advantage of the technology out there and avoid the far-too-common mistakes that lead to malpractice claims.