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While most law firms have embraced the many recent advances in legal technology, many of those same firms continue to utilize traditional manual calendaring systems to do their court calendaring. Whether they haven’t updated their systems because of resistance to investing in or changing such a fundamental task, or simply due to a lack of knowledge about available alternatives, these firms are spending excessive amounts of time and money on a system that is continually exposing them to numerous error and malpractice risks. A few years ago, as the firm administrator at Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor in Mill Valley, Calif., I orchestrated the transition from a manual calendaring system to an automated, court rules-based calendaring system. The automated system has since become an essential component in the success of the firm’s four-person litigation section. Additionally, it has proven to be less expensive, more accurate, more reliable and less time-consuming than the manual system. There have always been a number of costs and risks associated with manual calendaring systems. They are: Prone to errors. Human errors can easily be made when deadlines are initially calculated, dates are recorded into the system or information is shared with another party. Furthermore, if the person responsible for recording dates isn’t constantly up-to-date on relevant court rules, a calculation can be made inaccurately, and a deadline could be miscalculated or overlooked entirely. Time-consuming and cumbersome. Court deadlines and rules change frequently. To ensure reliability in a manual calendaring system, rules must be re-verified before every calculation. However, since rules can vary between different courts and jurisdictions, this commonly necessitates contacting the appropriate authority directly. Additionally, a second person at the firm must then double-check and verify all initial recordings and calculations, essentially necessitating the process to be completed twice. Further, docket changes and changes in the nature of a case can necessitate that all dates and deadlines be recalculated and verified for accuracy again. Costly. All of the effort spent creating and maintaining a reliable manual calendar is valuable time that legal professionals are not able to spend focused on more crucial matters. Prone to malpractice. According to a recent survey by the American Bar Association (“Profile of Malpractice Claims, 1996-1999″), calendar/deadline errors are the leading cause of malpractice claims against attorneys. Prone to inaccuracy. Regardless of the level of diligence put into a manual calendar, because there is not a readily available, reliable source of verification, one can never be absolutely certain of accuracy. Given this preponderance of inefficiencies and liabilities, Nielsen, Merksamer’s manual system was likely putting our firm at an unnecessary disadvantage. Before implementing a change, it was important to be well-informed, inclusive of solutions to all concerns and capable of providing a long-term resolution for the firm’s calendaring needs. My evaluation of alternatives consisted of a random survey of a number of my peers at Bay Area firms, attending sessions at Association of Legal Administrators conferences that focused on the topic of calendaring, and speaking with vendors that offered calendaring solutions. Although there are a few types of calendaring technologies available, the consensus identified the automated, court rules-based calendaring system as the most current and complete solution. A true automated, court rules-based calendaring system consists of integrated docketing software linked to a continually updated, Web-accessible court rules database for multiple courts and jurisdictions. These systems are designed to eliminate all costs and risks associated with manual calendaring. Information is entered into a computer program, where date calculations are completed instantly and automatically, and can be easily updated and recalculated. Rules are checked against a database containing the most current information for each particular calculation. Convinced that converting to an automated system was the right direction for Nielsen, Merksamer, the next step was examining and weighing the various, competing platforms currently available, including CompuLaw’s Vision and Thomson Elite’s ProLaw. There were a number of important considerations: How does the product work? What does the user interface look like? Is it user-friendly? What is the cost? Is it variable and adaptable to the size of our firm and our expected usage? Can it be tailored for use in specific jurisdictions, and what is the process for adding and dropping specific court subscriptions? What is the court and jurisdiction coverage of the court rules database? Are specialty courts included in the database? What are the processes behind which the court rules database is kept accurate? How long after a rule change is announced can it be expected to appear in the database? What are the qualifications of the people that are researching rule changes and updating the databases? What, if any, features differentiate a particular product? It seemed the best product for the needs of Nielsen, Merksamer was CompuLaw’s Vision software. Vision allows information to be easily entered into the system using a user-friendly series of menus and prompts that logically advance the user through the process. Users can easily determine which rules need to be invoked for any particular docket. Additionally, one of the most impressive features of Vision was its docket-change capabilities, which, when applied, automatically update all related dates, while still maintaining a continuous record of all changes, additions and deletions in the system. Finally, CompuLaw’s Vision software was compared to Nielsen, Merksamer’s manual system. It was anticipated that any new system would incur some new costs for the firm; however, when analyzing the amount of time that staff and attorneys were spending on the manual system compared to how much time could be saved with the automated system, and thus applied to other tasks, Vision would actually save us money. Additionally, the court rules-based system would help eliminate human error due to miscalculation, making the calendar more reliable. Moreover, the integration with and ability to reference an up-to-date court rules database would help ensure that docket calculations were accurate. We were able to integrate Vision software into our network without a single program conflict. Our lead litigation secretary, who had previously administrated the manual calendar, attended two days of program training. When she returned, she was able to train one other secretary and myself on the program in order to fill in for her as needed. Besides checking regularly for updates, no additional intervention or maintenance is required. Although the same people are still involved with the calendaring process, we now have a very accurate, automated program that simplifies the process. The lead litigation secretary enters docket and pleading information into Vision, which then references all of the relevant, up-to-date court rules and determines which rules are applicable for the calendar. A report is produced that contains all relevant dates, as well as the court rules used for calculating the dates. This report is attached to the relevant document when it is forwarded to the responsible attorney, who reviews and approves the dates. In the event of a date change, she enters the new information into Vision, which automatically recalculates all related dates in seconds, and a new report containing the date change is redistributed to the attorney for approval. Additionally, each Friday the lead litigation secretary generates a master litigation calendar covering the next four weeks, which she distributes to the attorneys for their reference. The upgrade to an automated, court rules-based calendaring system has been received positively at Nielsen, Merksamer. The amount of staff time spent on calendaring has been dramatically reduced. The perceived and actual accuracy of our court calendar has significantly increased, and the litigation attorneys are more comfortable with its reliability. Deborah Hunt is the legal administrator for Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller and Naylor in Mill Valley. She can be reached at [email protected]

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