Managing Your Attorney’s Calendar in Today’s Technological World

Managing your attorney’s calendar can be one of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks in your day.  That being said, it is also one of your professional responsibilities. But it doesn’t have to be challenging or time-consuming.

Calendaring has changed considerably from the days when an office manager would go around the office and ask each staff person how many appointment calendar notebooks they need for the coming year. Yet many attorneys and law firms have not modernized their approach to calendar management to address the fact that attorneys primarily use electronic communications and e-calendars. Sadly, there are still many firms adhering to an antiquated policy in which staff enter deadlines on his or her attorney’s calendar after reviewing the daily mail or receiving an e-filing notice. That practice is outdated, insufficient, inefficient, and definitely goes against the idea of “work smarter, not harder.”

Today, attorneys and assistants work with colleagues in other locations on the same case. When several attorneys and staff collaborate on a single case, regardless of location, that antiquated policy fails. There is a high risk that assistants will duplicate tasks or that no one will create a required calendar entry because each person assumes someone else has done it.

So, what to do?  How do you meet your professional responsibilities and manage your attorney’s calendar(s) efficiently and effectively while moving 100 mph along today’s technological superhighway? Following are some tips and suggestions to hopefully make navigating easier.

Someone Needs to Be in Charge

Are you that person?  If so, you should be the one determining how your attorney’s calendar is managed.  Even if your office has a dedicated calendaring department, consult with each attorney you are assigned to for the purpose of determining how they like their calendar handled while also communicating the firm’s calendaring policies and procedures.

Create Channels for Asking Questions, Reporting Problems, and Making Modifications

If your attorney prefers to be in charge of their own calendar, you still need to have access to their calendar and be sure to communicate any items to them that should be added or revised. There should be an open channel of communication between you and your attorney(s) for reporting problems or issues, submitting suggestions, questions, or concerns. Remember to ask questions when unsure of how to calendar or calculate a deadline.

User-Friendly, Reliable Calendar Management Software

If your office requires that all attorneys and staff use certain software for calendar management, the software should be web-based so that calendar changes automatically synchronize across all devices. Additionally, the firm should ensure that software is easy to use on all commonly available devices (computers, tablets, cell phones, etc.).

Calendaring Across Multiple Electronic Devices

When attorneys use more than one electronic calendar, errors are more likely to occur. For example, electronic calendar entries can be deleted with the accidental push of a button, and the likelihood of inadvertent data alteration increases as more devices are used.  It may be wise to limit the number of electronic devices used where calendaring and deadlines are involved.  Also, check with your attorney(s) prior to deleting and changing calendar entries to ensure that deadlines are not inadvertently erased, and that extensions or modifications are noted appropriately.

User Access

It may also be prudent to limit the number of individuals with access to multiple electronic devices in order to mitigate errors.  The policies and procedures adopted by your office should address who is responsible for creating entries, how to address a scenario where multiple people share the same calendar-management responsibilities for a single case, and what to do in the event a person with calendar-management responsibilities is absent. The policies and procedures should also contain a to-do list of calendar-related tasks for staff and attorneys to consult when a member of the team joins or leaves the firm. Conversely, it is good practice to grant permission to at least two other people to view the attorney’s electronic calendars, preferably the person who primarily manages each attorney’s calendar (you) and your backup person.

Junk Email

Regularly check your junk email and have your attorney do the same. A potentially adverse consequence of modern technology is where an email containing an important deadline is automatically routed to a junk email folder, which could result in a missed deadline if the recipient does not frequently and regularly check that folder. Courts have not been forgiving when attorneys have claimed they missed a deadline because they did not receive a court-generated electronic notice, regardless of the excuse.

Standardize Calendar Entries

Adopting a standardized naming convention that follows a specified format (e.g., client’s name, description of event, initials of the responsible attorney, court case title, deadline to file, and description of filing) can make calendaring management more streamlined. In addition, adopting instructions such as mandating that filing deadlines are created as all day events, including the docket text from court notices as an attachment, requiring entries for litigation events (deposition, trial, hearings, or meetings) to contain the complete address, including the room number, of the location of the event or meeting.

An Attorney’s Comments

In an article that appeared on the website “Attorney at Work,” written by Joan Feldman, entitled “Tech Tips: Keeping Your Calendar Under Control,” she quotes Catherine Sanders Reach, Director of Law Practice Management and Technology for the Chicago Bar Association:

Confirm and calendar meetings in Outlook. I use Microsoft Outlook for my work calendar and have it synced to all my devices. I live and breathe by my Outlook calendar. So, when someone emails and wants to have a meeting or a phone call and we have arrived on a mutually agreeable time, my last reply to confirm the event is a calendar request. MS Outlook makes this super easy by supplying a tiny little button in the Respond group on the Message tab that looks like a little calendar with the label “Meeting.”

Instead of clicking “Reply” to the last email, click the “Meeting” button (which is actually “Reply with Meeting”). Clicking this button sets up the response as a calendar request, with the entire email chain in the notes. You can see the date and time you’ve agreed on, adjust the request accordingly, and fill in information that might not yet be established. For example, you can fill in the location field with something like: “Catherine calls John at xyz-123-4567” or “Catherine meets Jane at Starbucks on State and Jackson.” Send the message along and you will both have it on your calendar — and you can delete all the previous emails about negotiating availability.

This is a great tip for staff as well and can definitely make life easier for both you and your attorney(s).

Final Thoughts & Tips

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for calendar management. Law firms and practices differ considerably in size, type, staff, work style, and more, making it difficult to implement an optimal set of rules. However, here are some final tips that may be helpful when doing your calendaring/workload planning.

  • [ON PAPER OR IN A WORD DOCUMENT] Jot down everything from your attorney’s calendar and your calendar (which ideally will be similar) that needs to be done, just to get it out of your head.
  • Review any incomplete tasks/calendaring items from the past week and quickly scan your/your attorney’s inbox, going for no more than 15 tasks.
  • Separate the 15 tasks into three groups of five: A, B, C.
  • Prioritize the tasks within those groups, 1 through 5.
  • This should provide a snapshot of the most crucial tasks and calendar items — the ones that will move the needle forward.
  • Decide what day you will work on each task.
  • At this point, go digital and add the blocks of time/calendaring items to Outlook.

Most importantly, focus on completing the top five A tasks, before moving on to the Bs, then Cs. Having this system in place can provide clarity about what is important and which calendar items and tasks you should work on, helping to accomplish the important things, even when disruptions throw your schedule out of whack. You may not get to all 15 tasks, but you have at least created a workable review system that helps keep you on track.

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