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According to articles published by the American Bar Association, court calendaring errors represent a major cause of malpractice claims. Calendaring mistakes such as data entry errors, failing to use file review dates, lack of a backup calendar, and old-fashioned procrastination about filing documents are among the reasons law firms miss critical filing deadlines. And, as law firms become more global and lawyers become more tech-savvy, “matter-centric” technology is becoming increasingly important. By integrating rules-based calendaring with work flow systems that focus on “end-to-end” management, law firms can exploit the advantages of a true matter-centric work environment — increased collaboration, improved client service, and better strategic decision-making. At Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, we’re striving to realize those benefits for our lawyers, staff, and clients. An international law firm with 14 offices and more than 800 attorneys, we recognized the value of maintaining a firmwide calendaring system years ago. In 1989, the firm adopted its first automated court docketing system. About four years ago, we moved to our current rules-based calendaring software, CompuLawVision. Our centralized calendaring system allows us to oversee the huge number of dockets, deadlines, filings, and case documents that our firm handles, saving time, headaches, and worry. It has built-in court rules and holiday databases for jurisdictions around the country, allowing our docketing department to calculate many court dates automatically. We also receive regular updates when court rules are changed, allowing our attorneys to assure their clients that we can support their litigation and business needs in any jurisdiction or venue in the country. While undergoing expansions and mergers over the years, as Pillsbury has brought attorneys on board, we have educated them about the importance of a firmwide court calendar. Now, we’ve begun integrating that firmwide calendar into our matter management systems and other software programs to fully leverage its functionality and benefits. SYNCHRONIZING REAL TIME The calendar, through CompuLaw’s Web Portal, is part of the standard desktop design on all of our computers. Also, we will be rolling out a method to synchronize real-time, updated court calendars to each attorney’s Microsoft Outlook program. Whenever they have access to e-mail or their desktop, attorneys can check the progress of a case or see whether a court date for a matter has changed. By mining the data in our court calendaring program, we are improving our litigation peer review. Every matter that comes to trial, enters into arbitration, or is appealed is reviewed by one of the firm’s seasoned litigators, who can then offer advice and guidance. To make this process more smooth and efficient, we’ve had customized rules written into our calendaring program and work flow process; at a certain point in each proceeding, the relevant attorneys are notified that it is the appropriate time to conduct a peer review. These automatic notices continue until there is a formal disposition of each case. Our rules-based calendar also helps us improve our services and offer opportunities for client feedback. In the course of a matter, at a predetermined time, our calendaring system has been customized to alert attorneys that it time-sent the client an early case evaluation and other status reports. This gives our attorneys a chance to reach out to the client, offer updates, and receive feedback. Certainly, not every matter requires such hands-on attention, and some clients may not feel they have the time or need for such updates. We have found, however, that newer clients and those involved in complex cases tend to be particularly appreciative of the opportunity. It’s left up to the senior managing partner to determine if each particular client would welcome the update for that matter at a particular time. We’re also using the docketing system to improve staffing on cases by bringing in local expertise from another office when needed. An attorney’s client often faces litigation or regulatory issues far from home. To ensure better client service, we are developing an initiative to assign local attorneys from other offices when necessary. Every time a new matter is opened in our court calendaring system, office locations will automatically be matched with relevant jurisdictions. For example, if litigation proceedings have commenced in Los Angeles but there are no attorneys in our L.A. office that currently work for that particular client, Pillsbury can identify and assign a local attorney with expertise and knowledge of relevant personalities and laws for that venue. When Pillsbury first instituted a firmwide docketing and calendaring program 18 years ago, we couldn’t have foreseen the advantages it would bring beyond improving the way we calculate, record, and update court dates. Now, the calendaring program has been integrated as a true matter-centric part of our firm, improving the way our attorneys practice law and serve our clients.
Bill Makinney is the firmwide calendar and docket manager at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. This article originally appeared on law.com, an ALM Web site.

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