12 Use a Calendar

Not all contacts become clients. You may not practice in a particular area or may only represent defendants in a particular kind of matter. Those contacts you capture and refer on to other lawyers are worth tracking too. Did they contact the other lawyer? What happened to their case?

Referrals between lawyers can be a big part of your law practice and your relationships with other lawyers matter as much as your relationships with clients you represent directly. Making sure you have complete contact information and using calendar appointments to follow up can help you to manage this relationship building.

Those who you might represent probably need to tell you more about their case. Whether you talk on the phone or meet in person, you should calendar their appointment.

Obvious, right?

Failing to calendar items is a frequent cause for lawyer discipline by a regulator: missed court dates, filing deadlines, etc. Start off on the right foot and calendar everything and rely on your calendar to know what is going on in your practice. If you share it with others, ensure that you know what they are adding and removing.

Again, Microsoft tends to rule the roost in this area. Microsoft Outlook has an integrated calendar. But calendaring is a signal feature in many dedicated law practice and case management programs too. There are also plenty of online calendars, through Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Work, among others.

Calendars can be a powerful tool to manage your client matters. Since they are often easy to synchronize with your portable devices, you can always have it with you. They can be shared over a network or the Internet so that changes can be made by multiple people without having access to a single paper calendar. They become a record of what you have done in a particular matter.

You may even be able to create recurring calendar templates so that, when an initial meeting is scheduled, you also create subsequent milestone appointments: statute of limitations, for example, or engagement letter or decline to represent letter sent. Whether you can automate these or have a staff person manually create these at the outset, a calendar can become a tool for managing a matter.

Look at your local practice rules on deadlines. If you are engaged in litigation, there are particular numbers of days between events that you can use to create calendar templates or a process to create calendar appointments to help you meet court or rules-required deadlines. You can find services dedicated to helping lawyers with these pre-built rules, including CalendarRules.com and Aderant’s Compulaw software.

A benefit of online calendars is the easy ability to integrate them into your other practice tools.   You can also view multiple calendars – your staff or other lawyers – at once and toggle them on or off for readability. You can colorize types of calendar appointments – motions and trials in red, house closings in green, and so on – to help you to visualize what’s on your time horizon. These are all things that could be done manually but not as easily.

You might use e-mail or calendar templates to respond to the initial inquiry and to communicate or confirm the appointment. Even in a solo law practice, you may have staff who do this for you using a shared calendar or e-mail inbox.

A Word About Templates

You may not be familiar with templates so it is worth clarifying the concept. You may be familiar with the use of the word in the sense of documents that you can download and use. Microsoft Office has a significant digital library of free business and legal documents, for example, that you can download and customize.

Microsoft’s Office templates are available for free although it looks like they are becoming harder to find. You can search by product and by keyword to find ones that will be useful in a law practice. For example, there are trial notebook templates for Microsoft OneNote, timeline chronologies for Excel and PowerPoint, and lots of business templates like invoices and calendars. Rather than download it repeatedly, you save the template on your computer and re-use it for each new client or event for which it applies.

Another use of the word template takes it in a slightly different way and you will come across it in relation to calendars. It is a re-usable item, like a document or spreadsheet, but it is intended to apply to a set of events in a calendar. For example, you might have a calendar template based on your civil rules of procedure. Let’s say you have a client who is being sued. You have received a complaint filed in court and have 21 days to respond. Rather than going through the process manually each time to determine the final date by which the response needs to be filed, you can create a template. It would automatically calculate 21 days – counting holidays and weekends unless they are the last day, for example – and place the item on your calendar.

It may not make sense to have a template for a single date, although it can cut down on errors if you have one. Templates can be more useful if you have multiple dates that need to be applied repeatedly. Perhaps in addition to the response to the complaint, there is a shorter deadline by which any motion for a more definite statement should be filed. Your template could build in an intermediate milestone so that, if you need to file one, you can draft and file the motion in a timely way.

The availability of templates may also depend on what calendar program you use. In some cases, you may need to purchase an add-on like Thomson Reuter’s Deadline Assistant (part of their larger case management program Firm Central) to implement linked events and then synchronize them to Outlook.

The idea of templates is to automate routine tasks and remove the make-work of recreating something over and over again. Templates are not always just documents, though, and it is useful to look for template-like tools in whatever technology products you use.

Synchronize Your Calendars

I have a very clear recollection of the daily process from days gone by when one staff person would gather all of the lawyers’ calendars and ensure that they all had the correct appointments on them. Did John schedule an appointment that needs Susan to attend as well, who has just scheduled something at the same time? This manual process is replaced by the shared calendar, where you can see these conflicts before they occur.

But you aren’t always in the office and your calendar should travel with you. Most calendars can be synchronized to your smartphone or your laptop running Microsoft Outlook offline or your tablet.   If you use a cloud-based calendar, you should understand how and if it synchronizes with your portable calendar. There are companies like CompanionLink whose whole business is to create synchronization tools to get contacts and calendars from one device or platform to another.

Not surprisingly, portable contacts and calendars are among the most important and regularly used function for mobile lawyers. There are many functions to portable technology but the bread-and-butter tools are still the most popular.

No matter how and on what device you take your calendar with you, make sure it is synchronized with your central or primary calendar. If you have an always-on data connection, you can keep in sync around the clock. If you are away from the office and create appointments, be sure it synchronizes when it reconnects to your network so that any conflicts are immediately identified.

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