Managing Dockets of Small or Solo Firms
By Erik M. Pelton
Excellent management of calendars and deadlines is critical for all attorneys. Big firms can afford dedicated staff and/or software for these matters, but small or solo law firms must properly and efficiently manage firm calendar and deadlines without such luxuries.
A law firm “docket” consists of calendar items such as meeting schedules, court deadlines, discovery deadlines, client obligations, marketing schedules, hearing dates, and more, for each of the members of the firm. Timely tracking of these matters is critical to increasing the chances for successful outcomes of matters. The key to successful docket management is to develop procedures, routines, checks, and backups so that the docket takes care of itself.
Here are some tips for setting up a docketing system:
- Find what works. There is no magic solution and there are many ways to reach the same goals. Be creative and experiment with different possibilities.
- See the big picture. Use a physical master calendar centrally located in the office. For example, I have a wall filled with four large calendars for the current month and the next three months (see photo below). Deadlines, travel, planned absences, meetings, and more are all labeled on this central calendar. I use dry erase to it can easily be changed, and it is color coded for different types of items. The calendars hung so that they can easily be rotated and updated as one month ends and a new month begins.
- A system for intake and inputting new docket items is key. When a new matter or item with a deadline comes in or is created, do not hesitate. Docket it immediately before any chance to forget is created. For example: when I receive discovery requests in a case, I docket the deadlines for when the responses are due before I even read the requests. I set a reminder of the deadline in Outlook as well.
- Err on the side of caution. I docket even potential deadlines and items. If I have to cross them out or erase them, it becomes one less thing to do. Proactively docketing saves having to scramble at the last minute if a “maybe” becomes a “yes.” (Example: a tentative deposition date in a case that might be settled first.)
- Document the office docket procedures and make sure everyone understands how to use and access them.
- Mistakes inevitably will happen when a new system is set up. Learn from them, and tweak the system to make sure that type of mistake will not happen again in the future.
- Have a backup. Even better, have two! (Example: I have a software-based docket, with backups in Outlook and on the dry erase boards.)
A solid docket with a backup does more than help you work efficiently and manage your time – it may reduce potential liability for malpractice and can also reduce malpractice insurance rates.
Managing a docket can certainly be stressful. The time and money invested into a great docket that works for your particular situation will not only serve clients and attorneys well, it will reduce an enormous source of stress and worry.
© 2012 Erik M. Pelton. All Rights Reserved.