This article originally appeared in the Polk Research Report, and is reprinted with their permission. Reprints are available from CompuLaw upon request.
Why Calculating a Docket Calendar by Hand is Like Writing a Brief on a Typewriter
by Howard L. Yellen
As a lawyer and administrator of the California State Bar Association's Law Office Management Assistance Program, legal technology consultant Howard L. Yellen is on a crusade to convince U.S. litigators that they need to use automated docketing systems.
Yellen believes that any firm that continues to calculate court dates and deadlines manually is opening itself up to serious risk and unnecessary costs.
"Using human beings to schedule docket calendars is like using a typewriter today. The old-fashioned way results in more mistakes and it costs you more," he said.
Yellen, president of Professional Consulting Group, Inc. in San Francisco, also believes law firms are being lured into a false sense of security by using electronic calendar or personal information manager programs that are not really docketing programs. Electronic calendar programs are digitized versions of paper calendars; some are even formatted to print out versions that look like the popular Daytimer calendar.
A true docket program, by contrast, automatically schedules dates based on court rule databases. All types of court rules and firm rules can be programmed into these systems, such as those that require that a deadline be scheduled on a specific day of the week or are counted by hours instead of court days. The program can be taught to fall forward, or drop back when encountering a holiday or weekend, in accordance with the precise text of specific rules.
Once these programs have been programmed with rules, key dates such as trial dates can be entered and the system will schedule all other important related deadlines. With manual systems and even electronic calendaring programs, attorneys, paralegals or docket managers often spend two or three hours calculating all the deadlines triggered by a single trial--and then enter these calculated dates into either the paper or electronic calendar.
These manual calculations often lead to mistakes. Inasmuch as missed deadlines and dates account for more than 40 percent of all legal malpractice claims, it is little wonder that most legal malpractice carriers give premium reductions to firms that use docketing programs.
Docket programs not only often reduce insurance premiums, they also save staff time. Docket deadlines that once took 30 minutes to calculate can now be scheduled in seconds, and the savings increase exponentially around trials, when changes in rules, factors and circumstances prompt a myriad of recalculations and schedulings, Yellen said.
Yellen recommends CompuLaw's Advanced/Network Docket™ (NetDoc) as the docket software of choice for all size law firms. He makes this recommendation because:
NetDoc has the most sophisticated court rules engine available and thus offers true scheduling accuracy, which is completely unattainable in a simple calendaring software and difficult to obtain from other docket programs.
NetDoc's library of nearly 100 rule sets, which are produced by lawyers, is the most complete and accurate available. The program comes preprogrammed with five years of Federal holidays. Among the preprogrammed sets currently available from CompuLaw are: Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Bankruptcy, Federal California (Fast Track, Superior, Appellate and Federal Courts), Texas, New York, Florida sets and others.
NetDoc provides a powerful Data Validation safety feature that prevents users from making scheduling errors either by double scheduling time slots or misidentifying parties (Joe Jones, Inc. and Joseph Jones, Inc.) and thus creating different schedules for the same case. NetDoc doesn't care whether you misspell a client's name, a matter name or file number; it validates the correct identifier before permitting you to enter data.
Note: Since this writing, CompuLaw has released its latest version of its Windows Docket Calendar Software, called Vision. Yellen now continues to recommend NetDoc for DOS environments and Vision for Windows, Windows 95/98 and Windows NT. CompuLaw's rule set library includes jurisdictions for all 50 states and Washington DC with other specialty rule sets such as Patent and Trademark, Bankruptcy and more. Click here for a listing.
With NetDoc, firms may edit the rule sets offered by CompuLaw or design and enter their own rule sets from scratch. Holiday tables can also be established for each venue.
Additionally, users can create personal or user rule sets. For example, an attorney managing a case may want to receive copies of draft deposition questions three days prior to a junior associate conducting the deposition. Many attorneys develop "100 days to trial" rules sets to help manage their cases in the final stages before trial. One of Yellen's clients, a major insurance company, developed a special case handling guideline rule set to make sure staff attorneys file status reports at the proper times.
NetDoc is offered for single and multiple user licenses. It uses Btrieve as its database manager, allowing for quick, client server-based access to databases of virtually unlimited size, and especially easy implementation on Novell LANS and WANS. With this database engine, the program offers extraordinary speed and flexibility. With client-server technology, even as databases grow and usage increases, networks do not slow down.
Note: Since this writing, CompuLaw has begun offering Btrieve implementations specific to Windows NT, offering the same client server-based advantages as those in its Novell versions.
"In my view, any litigation firm not using docket software is taking unnecessary risks, and any docket user not using NetDoc is settling for second best or worst," Yellen said.