Does Your Staff Know Where You Are?

I recently contacted a colleague of mine to discuss a potential referral. His assistant said he was in court and she could not help me with his schedule or a good time for a return call, since he had his calendar with him.

In my 12 years of practice, I have come to realize that there are other lawyers out there who maintain a single paper calendar, and they usually have it with them even when out of the office. This can be frustrating for their staff, since they do not have access to the schedule. More importantly, this is frustrating for clients, other lawyers, judges and courts, because, if the lawyer is out of the office, has his calendar with him and someone else wants to schedule something, it is impossible. It then becomes a game of back-and-forth negotiation of time slots while everyone waits for the calendar to appear back at the office. It can also be a minefield for malpractice claims.

I began researching this issue and found a 2002 article[1] by Geisen Insurance Brokers, Inc., in San Diego, Law Firm Loss Prevention Systems and Procedures, which discusses, among other things, lawyers’ calendaring systems. They list four system types that apply to all law firms, including, and especially, solo attorneys: 1) computerized; 2) perpetual; 3) dual; and 4) single calendar.

Computerized calendars (kind of speaks for itself, right?) are typically centralized and have a designated staff member to make entries. It sends a series of notifications to lawyers and staff when dates are approaching. A perpetual calendar is a series of index cards filed by day, month and year with cross referencing for high-priority items. (Huh?) A dual calendar is basically two calendars for all future dates. One is kept by the lawyer and the other by the assistant.[2] Last, and certainly least reliable, is the single calendar. According to the article, even solo attorneys should use a system that requires them to make at least two entries for any given date. Their Recommendation: all lawyers should use at least the dual calendaring system.

Because my annual professional liability renewal application asks whether I have a dual calendar system, I discussed this topic with Lee Norcross of L Squared Insurance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He agrees there must be a dual system. For him, the proliferation of personal data assistants (PDAs), such as Palm and Blackberry, has made the dual system easier, because the lawyer maintains the PDA, and the secretary maintains the computer software that synchronizes with the PDA. There are two sets of eyes to look it over. I somewhat disagree on this, because I normally do not enter dates on my Palm, but rather on my computer and synchronize a copy of that to my Palm.[3] For me, it’s still one calendar entry, so I also use my Franklin Planner for the second entry. While it is not two sets of eyes, it is two separate entries.

Norcross told me of a pending claim that involves the death of a member of a multiple-lawyer firm. He kept his own calendar, and the firm believed it had gotten all of the pending dates from his calendar. They missed one. Even in a multiple-member firm, lawyers should not maintain their own calendars. His final word of wisdom: “back up!” On the computer side of the equation, according to Norcross, is that “the number one theft from law offices is their computers.” We need to have good calendar systems, and they need to be backed up regularly.

A computer-based calendar system is great because of the automatic reminders it can give more than one person. The above article mentions that the ideal computerized calendar should notify, alert or remind the lawyer and at least one assistant. I would suggest that not all lawyers are especially diligent about reviewing their calendars on a regular basis and depend greatly on their staff. Even the lawyer should receive alerts and reminders, although they may go unnoticed. My Recommendation: use the dual calendaring system and incorporate the built-in technology of a computer-based system as one of the calendars. This should require two separate date entries. Plus, the calendar system makes simple the multiple reminders you may want for any given date. An added bonus: your staff will know where you are, or at least where you want them to think you are, and can handle your scheduling tasks in your absence. Isn’t that why you have staff?

Poll: How does your system stand up to the preferred method? I really am interested. Comment below, and let’s keep this conversation going on my blog.

[1] This article includes some other procedures of interest (outside the scope of this article) and should be read in its entirety.

[2] Of course, I always assumed that “dual calendar” meant a book and a computer.

[3] I used to take paper files and create a Court Notes sheet, on which I wrote any upcoming dates. When I returned to the office and gave that file to my assistant, she would input the date in the computer calendar. Now, I take my laptop to court and input the date at that time. Only occasionally, do I input dates on my Palm directly and then synchronize it back to the “mother calendar.”

About Kris Krol

Kris Krol is an attorney in private practice in Lansing, Michigan. Since 1998, she has increased her knowledge about the “business” of practicing of law. Specifically, she has learned how to streamline her practice and to maximize various software solutions in the practice of law. In 2005, she began an 18-month transition to a completely paperless office.
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One Response to Does Your Staff Know Where You Are?

  1. Mona Davis says:

    We have a client of yours. I was trying to find your email address so I could mail you the report, so that is how I found your website. I tried but the e-mail came back as undeliverable, so my manager must have faxed it to you. I am just getting into the internet thing. We will soon be developing a web site. I guess it is the thing for the 2000’s. Take care, I’ll keep in touch. I just emailed to the address you sent me and it came back undeliverable, so I will use your comment page again. Mona

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