South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, May 2007, #3.
Everything You Need to Know About Calendaring
South Carolina LawyerMay 2007Everything You Need to Know About CalendaringBy Mark BassingthwaighteLaw firms of all sizes, from the solo litigator to the mega-litigation firms, constantly expose themselves to malpractice due to the inefficient management of the calendaring process. For example, a firm of 14 attorneys may very well have 14 individualized calendaring processes in place. The result is an increased risk of a calendaring error occurring. To the detriment of clients and firms, calendar failures are common, and clients are increasingly intolerant of such mistakes.
Proper mail handling
Calendar and docket control begins with the proper handling of incoming mail. Handling mail improperly can result in disciplinary complaints and malpractice claims alleging a lack of diligence or competence. Improper mail handling can also cause you to miss calendar deadlines and fail to timely respond to clients' questions or needs. On the other hand, appropriate mail handling gives your firm a reputation for professionalism and convinces clients, colleagues and judges that your office is well run and the lawyers involved are competent and diligent.
Proper mail handling procedures begin with the opening of the mail as soon as it is received. Do so in a centralized fashion with one or more people (depending upon firm size) responsible for opening the mail, entering calendar data and delivering the mail to the appropriate recipient. Each piece of mail should be date-stamped and reviewed for deadlines. The mail handlers should enter deadlines and reminders on the firm's calendar and then verify the calendar entry's accuracy by comparing it to the original mail document. After the mail handlers have completed these steps, they can deliver the mail to the respective staff or attorneys for their review and related substantive work.
When the recipient staff or attorney receives her mail, she should review it to ensure that the firm's mail handlers caught the important dates and correctly entered them into the firm's calendar. She should then attend to each letter's recited questions or requests for information. If the firm keeps duplicate calendars (which are essential for litigation attorneys), the staff or attorney should ensure that her duplicate calendar contains the same entries. Do not overlook the necessity of making certain that the duplicate calendars are created independently from the original and are not simply copies, or the accountability piece will be missed.
While redundant calendars are important, their real value can only be realized if these redundant systems are independent from the primary calendar, and here is why. Calendaring errors continue to remain a leading source of malpractice claims across the country. One of the common missteps is simply a data entry error, be it an incorrectly entered date or a date that never made it into the calendar. Mistakes happen. In fact, calendar entry errors are a common reason for missing statute of limitation deadlines.
With this in mind, ask yourself, "If there were an incorrect entry in your primary calendar, would this error be caught?" If the answer is no, then adjustments need to be made. Remember that there is a difference between copying the data from a master calendar to a back-up calendar and independently entering data from original documents into two separate and independent calendaring systems. If the person maintaining the primary calendar makes an error, the odds that a second person, who is responsible for independently maintaining the back-up calendar, will make the same mistake are quite low. The true purpose of maintaining an independent yet redundant secondary calendar is to catch the misstep that may occur from time to time. Again, mistakes happen.
While there is no one right way to catch calendaring errors, two common approaches are to have a second staff member or each individual firm attorney build a secondary independent system, or have a second staff member or each attorney accept the responsibility for independently reviewing the accuracy of the calendared entries into the primary system by reviewing the original documents. Having the...