Suggested Best Practices
- Meeting Deadlines Generally:
- Lawyers should plan ahead by allotting extra time for tasks, and even anticipate traffic jams when heading to the courthouse.1 Always file early whenever possible; you may discover that additional documents are required or that a trip back to the law firm for forgotten items is necessary when filing.
- Guidance on E-Filing Deadlines
- E-Filing Deadlines Generally:
- Some states require either conventional filing or e-filing, while other states accept both.2 Always be sure to check the rules in your jurisdiction.
- Miscalculating Deadlines:
- Take time to get reacquainted with the procedural rules addressing deadlines in your jurisdiction. Longstanding rules may have changed due to technological developments, or for other reasons. Accordingly, deadlines that were formerly relied upon should be recalculated.3 Keep in mind that the deadlines required for e-filing are often different than those for conventional filing,4 and that new cases sometimes have special filing deadlines.5
- Underestimating Deadlines:
- Avoid procrastinating because of the extra time gained from e-filing.6 E-filing is often harder than it appears, and can take longer than anticipated, especially using an e-filing for the first time. For example, first time e-filing users may be required to create an account, and validation of this account may take longer than 24 hours. File types may be rejected, or need to be converted before accepted by the online filing program.7 Given these complications, lawyers should file early to allow ample time for resubmissions.8
- Thoroughly review the e-filing submission and ensure that the correct document is uploaded, the proper fields are selected, and that all required components are included.9 This thorough pre-submission review is simple, but very important. It may take the clerk’s physical review at a later time to recognize submission errors, at which point the deadline may have passed.10 In addition, court notices indicating a submission was received do not guarantee that the submission is valid.11
- File-Size Restrictions:
- File size restrictions often cause unanticipated problems with submissions.12 Read the fine print and reduce a large document into multiple, smaller files before filing when necessary.13
- Technology Problems:
- Courts are generally unsympathetic to technology problems that occur on a personal computer system. However, some jurisdictions have rules in place describing what to do if the court computer system is down. Always be sure to check the rules in your jurisdiction.
- E-Filing Deadlines Generally:
- Consider Using Practice Management Software
- What is Practice Management Software?
Practice management tools automate law firm functions and commonly include case management, contact management, time tracking, document assembly, and calendaring and docketing features.14
- Case Management: Organizes cases into a single database that features case information, conflicts of interest documentation, statute of limitations information, and advanced searching.15
- Contact Management: Archives detailed phone and email information; offers callback reminders.16
- Time and Billing: Tracks various types of billable time on an individual or firm basis, integrates time tracking information with other time, billing, and accounting platforms; produces client invoices; manufactures billing reports for individual lawyers.17
- Calendaring and Docketing: Maintains a master calendar with scheduling features and allows firm employees to filter tasks, deadlines, appointment, and meetings by day, month, and year.18
- Document Assembly: Contains document drafting features, and integrates with other word processing programs.19
- Selecting a Practice Management Tool
- The ABA analyzes a variety of practice management offerings by price, technical requirements, front-office tasks, back-office tasks, software compatibility, mobile access and technical support in a chart at its website.20.
- For additional advice on selecting practice management options, see Jared Correia, Law Practice Management Software: A Holistic Remedy, ATTORNEY AT WORK (Oct. 31, 2011).
- The ABA also analyzes recent technology in its Top 10 Product Announcements in the 2014 ABA Techshow. These products include several up and coming practice management technologies.21
- Keep firm size in mind when selecting practice management software; certain programs cater to the needs of larger law firms while others focus on serving medium or small firms.22
- Legal technology consulting services can also provide advice on which practice management tool is best for your firm.23
- Use Training to Educate Lawyers and Staff on Practice Management Resources
- Training can benefit an entire firm by teaching lawyers and staff how to use the practice management software to its fullest extent.
- Law practice management companies often provide excellent training on their products, or provide training through legal technology consulting companies.
- Implement a Master Calendar System
- Lawyers should keep all appointments, deadlines, and events all in a master calendar. A firm-wide master calendar also allows for better deadline management because other firm members have an opportunity to spot individual calendaring errors.
- While having a master calendar is a must, and should be the only calendar you rely on regularly, it should not be the only calendar you keep. For master calendars kept electronically, save an electronic version and keep a paper copy elsewhere in case of server crashes. In addition, try to keep dates backed up on an off-site server in case something happens to your office files, such as a computer virus or a fire. If there is more than one way of storing the master calendar, be sure to make sure to synchronize all versions of the calendar on a regular basis so that only one set of dates exists.
- Calendar systems are only as effective as the data entered into them. A vigorous process should be used to ensure that deadlines are correct before entry, and to double check that the entries are correct after entry.
- Consider using a calendar system with multiple independent inputs so that more than one individual reviews the deadline before and after it is entered.
- Designate a time each week to review deadlines set for the upcoming week.
- Having an organized process in place for sorting mail can be another safeguard against missed deadlines. Assure that someone who is very detail-oriented is put in charge of this task so that important mail pieces containing dates will be less likely to be missed.
- A tip from a colleague: “One of my great mentors in the law taught me to start my day each day with the thing I least wanted to do, whatever that task was. He said that would make the rest of my day more positive and reduce the risk of missing something important on the case or client I most wanted to avoid. He was right. Too often a deadline gets missed for that very case or client. Another coping mechanism here is to refer the case to someone else once you realize you are avoiding a client.” – Sally Field, Legal Professional Liability Leader, Attorney Protective.
- Require Case Status Meetings
- Meet frequently with staff to discuss cases and receive updates to stay informed and avoid missed deadlines.
- What is Practice Management Software?
1 See infra Part II.B and Part IV.E (discussing obstacles that may arise with filing deadlines).
2 See MILLS & STEWART, supra note 10, at 28.
3 Id. at 29.
6 See supra note 17(expressing vehement disfavor towards procrastination).
7 See MILLS & STEWART, supra note 10, at 29.
9 Id. at 30.
14 See ABA Law Practice Division, Practice and Case Management Software, LEGAL TECHNOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER.
20 For a detailed comparison of various practice management software options, see ABA Law Practice Division, Practice/Case Management Software Comparison Chart for Solo/Small Firm, LEGAL TECHNOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER (2012).
21 See Robert Ambrogi, Top 10 Product Announcement at ABA Techshow, LAW SITES (Mar. 31, 2014).
22 See ABA Law Practice Division, Practice and Case Management Software, LEGAL TECHNOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER.
23 For tips on hiring a consultant, see ABA Law Practice Division, FYI: Hiring a Freelancer or Consultant, LEGAL TECHNOLOGY RESOURCE CENTER.
Risk Management Best Practices Database Legal Statement
Information provided by Attorney Protective is not intended as legal advice. This publication provides best practices for use in connection with general circumstances, and ordinarily does not address specific situations. These best practices are not intended to meet or establish the standard of care, and sometimes recommend practices that exceed the standard of care. Specific situations should be discussed with legal counsel licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction. By publishing practice and risk prevention tips, Attorney Protective neither implies nor provides any guarantee that claims can be prevented by use of the suggested practices. Though the contents of Attorney Protective's Best Practice Database have been carefully researched, Attorney Protective makes no warranty as to the accuracy, applicability or timeliness of the content. Anyone wishing to reproduce any part of the Attorney Protective Best Practices Database content must request permission from Attorney Protective by calling 877-728-8776 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally the rules cited in the contents of this database may have since changed. You should check the laws and model rules in your state for specific information on the topics addressed here.