Archive for the ‘Docket and Calendar Management’ Category

Avoiding Missed Deadlines

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In his blog post today, Judge Primeaux drew attention to the importance of proper calendar/tickler management, doing an excellent job of describing the system most of used when I started practicing 35 years ago. The point cannot be emphasized enough. If his post was lacking in any respect, it was that it did not make clear the way in which paralegals and attorneys can work as a team to minimize the the problem of missed deadline.

I followed up on his post with this comment:

This is an excellent and important point, one that I emphasize in all my paralegal classes and focus on in my first “The Empowered Paralegal” book [The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.] There are many intermediate methods for calendar management, including use of the Calendar function in Outlook and most other email program. A few points merit emphasis:

 1. Proper calendar management is a two person function. The paralegal and attorney should coordinate calendars and ticklers frequently, cross-checking each other. The problems avoided by having two persons ensuring timeliness far outweigh the little time it takes each person.;

 2. More than one calendar is helpful if you are using a paper system – the attorney’s calendar with all the entries important to her, the paralegal’s calendar for her deadlines, and a joint calendar for all major dates;

3. The calendar should contain not only deadlines, but intermediate steps – Answers to Interrogatories are due in 30 days, but the calendar should have dates for getting them to the client, getting necessary information from the client, a first draft date, etc.

 4. This type of organization should extend beyond the tickler/calendar to the attorney’s (and paralegal’s) workspace management, file management, client management, and -most importantly- time management.

Guidebooks for the Trip to Trial

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Judge Primeaux of the 12th Mississippi Chancery Court did a post yesterday entitled, “WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO HIDE SOMETHING FROM A LAWYER? [HINT: IT’S IN THE RULES].” He notes

Lawyers do not bother to read the rules. One of my pet peeves. Just the other day I had a lawyer in my office who proudly produced proof of certified mail service of process on a state department. No one appeared for the defendant agency. That may be, I pointed out, because MRCP 4(d)(5) requires process “Upon the State of Mississippi or any one of its departments, officers or institutions, by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi.” Really? Didn’t know that.

and concludes,

I am convinced that the most significant difference between the good lawyers and the mediocre-to-poor ones is that the good lawyers take time to try to do it right, making sure they know the rules, statues or cases behind what they are doing.  Which category will you place yourself in?

I am convinced as the judge of his conclusion and feel it is as applicable to paralegals as lawyers. Unfortunately all too often both  attorneys and paralegals view the Rules of Procedure (Civil, Criminal, Appellate) as obstacles to be overcome on the way to trial. I’ve done entire presentations  on “The Path of a Civil Lawsuit” attempting to change that point of view. The Rules are not obstacles to a trial, but a guidebook for the trip to trial.  No need to wander aimlessly through that trip – the Rules will guide you, telling you:

oWhat you can, must and cannot do
oHow to do it – Format and Procedure
oWhen you can, must or cannot do it
oWhere to do it
So take the judge’s advice:  Keep your rule book on your desk — open — every time you have to issue process, or file a motion to compel, or file a counterclaim, or a 12(b)(6) motion,  glance at the rule, and refresh your recollection.

It takes two to manage a docket calendar

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, I explain that effective docket control involves the entire legal team. It is not enough for the attorney to simply delegate this task to the paralegal:

C. Dual Calendar Systems – Dual Attorney/Paralegal Responsibilities

You can and must manage your calendar. You also have some responsibility for managing your attorney’s calendar because you and your attorney are a team. The good news is that you and your attorney are a team so the attorney also has responsibility for managing the attorney’s calendar and some responsibility for managing yours.
Deadlines aren’t disastrous or dreadful. Missed deadlines are both. Cases, clients and law office reputations are lost due to late filing of documents. Even worse, jobs are lost. Take heart, there are systems designed to minimize this danger. When such systems are chosen and modified by you, your attorney and your office to suit your office’s practice, they can practically eliminate the danger. When your chosen system is combined with effective time, work, client and attorney management techniques and double-checking, missing a deadline should be a very rare occurrence indeed.

Legal.com posts a case today illustrating the dangers of failing to have a double-checking system in place.

Plaintiff—appellant Ber’Neice Harris appeals the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII action for failure to timely file her complaint. Harris argues that the ninety-day filing period for her religious discrimination action should be equitably tolled because the delay was caused not by the plaintiff but by a clerical error made by her attorney’s paralegal. We agree with the district court that equitable tolling does not apply to normal situations of attorney negligence or inadvertence. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court’s order dismissing the Title VII case for failure to timely file the complaint.

There is no doubt that the paralegal screwed up here, but I maintain that part of the responsibility lies with the law office, and not just because the rules make the attorney responsible for staff screw ups. This kind of error can be avoided by having a system in place that requires that every docket entry be cross-checked by someone else on the legal team. If the client is brought into the process (as I also advocate in The Empowered Paralegal), the client may play this role but I prefer that this responsibility remain within the law office.  I am sure that the attorney in this case came down hard on the responsible paralegal – and justifiably so. However, some of the wrath must be reserved for the attorney and law office that did not foresee this possibility and have a system in place to prevent it.

As part of your year-end assessment, check your office’s system for controlling and preventing docket calendar entries. If it is not a dual system, a system that has someone cross-checking what you do, talk  to your attorney about implementing the necessary changes. If you are concerned about having that conversation, read Chapter Six of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.

Paralegals Help Prevent Dustbunnies

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Chancery Judge Larry Primeaux has another excellent post today entitled, “Sweeping Dustbunnies.” I’m reposting it here because I think you need to read the whole thing to get the full picture and the judge as previously indicated he doesn’t mind me lifting his material. I recommend that any paralegal interested in understanding practice before a court to put his blog on their RSS. It is worth it for the checklists alone.

My only contribution will be this foreword to the post, partly addressed to attorneys and partly to paralegals:

Attorneys: A good, professional paralegal can save you a lot of grief. They are not maids, butlers, super-secretaries, who clean up the office. But as an effective member of the legal team they can greatly assist in preventing dustbunnies of the type depicted by the judge. For this to happen it is important that you understand, respect, and properly use the special skills a good paralegal brings to the legal team. Support your paralegals in this regard by providing them with the time and means to obtain appropriate CLE and membership in professional associations. Talk to your paralegals about what can be done to improve their skills in this regard, to improve the office to more effectively utilize those skills, and to improve the working relationship of the legal team. Together you can make a plan to manage the chaos.

Paralegals: It is, indeed, part of your role on the legal team to use effective and professional time, workload, workspace, docket, and client management skills, to prevent the accumulation of dustbunnies. Use examples such as this case to do a self-assessment and an assessment of your office systems. How many of these dustbunnies would have been prevented in your office and how many would likely have begun gathering in the small spaces between the files piled on the legal team members’ desks? Talk to your attorneys about what can be done to improve your skills in this regard, to improve the office to more effectively utilize those skills, and to improve the working relationship of the legal team. Together you can make a plan to manage the chaos.

OK, homily over, here’s the judge’s post:

Have you ever noticed that mistakes and missteps seem to pile up in some cases despite your best efforts, just like those dustbunnies that pile up under that buffet in your dining room no matter how hard you try?

The case of Estate of Bellino v. Bellino, decided by the Court of Appeals on November 2, 2010, is one of those “dustbunny” cases, and it merits your attention. For ease of following this, we’ll mark the dustbunnies as they accrue with the international dustbunny symbol: ¤.

Stephen and Margaret Bellino were married in 1974. During the marriage, Stephen inherited $200,000 and opened a securities account with A. G. Edwards (AGE). In 1995, he and Margaret executed a joint account agreement declaring the account to be a joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

Alas, the marriage foundered, and the erstwhile blissful couple faced off in court. Their marriage ended May 2, 2006, with entry of a final judgment of divorce.

And that is when the discombobulating deluge of dustbunnies (¤) began to develop.

It seems that the divorce judgment made no mention of the AGE account. That would be the first ¤.

Stephen became aware of the problem when he tried to make a withdrawal and was refused by AGE, which took the position that it could not allow any withdrawals until the court addressed the ownership issue. Another ¤.

Stephen filed an MRCP Rule 59 motion to alter or amend the judgment to address the oversight. Only problem is that he waited until May 15, 2006. That would be a major ¤ because it was filed more than ten days after entry of the judgment, and so the motion was time-barred.

In all the hubbub surrounding the issue, Stephen never got around to changing ownership of the account. This is one of those ¤’s that spawns lots of other ¤’s.

Before the issue could be resolved by the judge, Stephen died on June 18, 2006. Regrettable as it is, this development was also a ¤.

Stephen’s estate was duly opened in July. There is no mention of the estate being substituted as a party in the divorce action under MRCP 25. Probably a ¤.

In November, the attorney for the estate approached the chancellor and, without any notice to Margaret or her attorneys, obtained an order directing AGE to pay the funds to the estate. No question this was a ¤.

To compound matters, the attorney for the estate never filed the order (or, it appears, any motion therefor) in either the estate or divorce file, and never served it on Margaret’s attorneys. That would be ¤ ¤ ¤.

They’re beginning to pile up, aren’t they?

At this point the attorney for the estate realized that the dustbunnies were getting out of hand, so he started trying to sweep them up. The problem is that when you sweep dustbunnies it tends to scatter them and they seem to proliferate, which is exactly what they did.

The attorney for the estate filed an appeal. Now, this is really a dustbunny because the issues are fairly straightforward and not really in doubt. Score another ¤.

Right off the bat the court of appeals criticized the attorney for the estate for not filing a statement of issues after being asked not once but several time by the appellate court to do so. That would be another ¤ ¤ ¤. The court even thought about not considering his brief, which is, of course a ¤.

The court of appeals ruled that Margaret got the money because Stephen never changed the account and it was hers by survivorship. A predictable ¤.

Stephen’s estate will be stuck with the cost of cleaning up all these dustbunnies, and will have nothing to show for it. That’s a ¤ right there. In the alternative, the estate could insist that its attorney bear the cost of the appeal, which would be his own personal ¤.

So there you have it. Too many dustbunnies and before you know it you have a mess too big to clean up.

Planning on Reaching Goals

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Attaining goals requires more than wishful thinking. If I want to get to Memphis, I can set off in that general direction and wander around in hopes that one day I’ll make it there, or I can plan.

The first step is to identify goals. This requires some thought and specificity. A goal that simply says, “I want to be happy,” “I want to be successful,” or “I want to be financially stable,”  while understandable, is too vague to be helpful. What will it take for you to be happy? What is success for you? In the academic arena success if often measured by attaining tenure. But even “I want to make tenure” is too vague of a goal. What does it take to make tenure? For many it requires (1) excellence in teaching, (2) service to school and profession, and (3) Scholarly research and publication. These serve better as goals and it gives some framework – one goal, “success” has become three specific goals, each of which can lead to a specific plan for attainment. There are specific ways to measure and improve teaching excellence. Service to school and profession can be accomplished in specific ways, and so on.  So to achieve each of these components of the tenure goal, we can

  1. Make a list of the component parts necessary to meet the component part of the goal. What are the school’s specific requirements for teaching, publication and service.
  2. Record essential time requirements on your calendar. Record not just the dates on which you need to have accomplished the goal, but also the dates on which each essential component must be accomplished.
  3. Make a plan for accomplishing each component on your list. If necessary, break these tasks down into smaller components with their own plan. Again, a plan is more than a vague statement of intent such as, “I will study hard.” What specific acts constitute “studying hard?” What time needs to be allocated to each one of those tasks, in what order should they be done, what materials are needed, what other people must be involved (even if their involvement is simply that I have to see they are taken care of first, e.g., hungry kids.)
  4. Record the date on which you must START each part of your plan in order to complete it on time. Build in time for the unexpected.
  5. Establish reminders for each for each start and end date. It’s not enough to mark the calendar. We all need “ticklers” to remind us as we go along. In fact, we sometimes become complacent about deadlines because they are on the calendar. 
  6. Review your entire calendar and integrate the new plan into the overall management of your life. Look at events before, during and after the deadline.  If the new event will chew up time you had planned to use completing a task for meeting another deadline, you may need to change one or both plans.

More on Having a Plan, Stan.

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Melissa H. of Paralegalese has a guest post at Legal Practice Pro entitled “The Paralegal’s Role in Managing the Law Firm,” which would be great except for the fact that she posted it there instead of here. Nonetheless, you should read it.

And you should troll through other posts on the Legal Practice Pro blog, especially “Managing Chaos.” You’ll note that Jay says stuff you’ve heard before. In fact you’ve heard it here! But he says it well, so I’ve lifted some of it for inclusion here:

You see, the fires erupt only when you’re not in control of your surroundings. Sure, there will always be unexpected issues that arise. But when you’re in control, you can handle the issues as they come up because you’ve got a plan in place for dealing with these sorts of things.

Control is attained only by having a plan, and a system for dealing with every facet of your practice. How a client file flows through the office, where things get put, how phones get answered. I’m not talking about some amorphous theory of picking up the phone when it rings, I”m talking about scripting out the entire dance. Yes, the entire dance.

I call it a dance because, well, it is one. For a business to operate properly, all players must move in perfect harmony at all times. Fred and Ginger were never caught on film stepping on toes, were they? So, too, must your business glide effortless from place to place on the dance floor.

Jay speaks in terms of law office operation, but what he says applies to all aspects of professional life, especially paralegal practice.  I’m looking forward to more from Jay on taking charge through planning. It’s not just that great minds think alike (as they do in this case), but this stuff works and works well! It is, in many ways, the foundation of The Empowered Paralegal.

Paralegal Stress

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Several readers have arrived at this blog by searches including the words “paralegal” and “stress.”  Certainly paralegals, like all professionals, are subject to multiple professional stress factors in addition to those arises from private life such as spouses, children and finances. This is especially true in situations where they are overworked.

Stress factors include time pressure, workload, docket control, client management and relationships with co-workers including attorneys. The bad news is that there is no way to eliminate these factors. They are part of any profession and of many non-professional careers. The good news is that they can be controlled by paralegals rather than the paralegal being controlled by them.

The primary factor in controlling stress lies in the way the paralegal approaches any and all aspects of paralegal practice. It is a proactive rather than reactive approach. It seeks to understand and manage even those aspects of practice that the paralegal cannot control. This principle involves taking a rational empowered approach to time, file, workload, calendar, client and attorney relationship management.

While the specifics are different with regard to each stress producer, the paralegal can identify the areas of concern, analyze each aspect of that concern, set priorities that address those concerns, obtain a greater understanding of the area of concern, investigate solutions and barriers to those solutions, and establish procedures for implementing solutions and removing or overcoming barriers to those solutions. This can, and should, be done in a direct, rational and professional way – a way that honors our own need to be efficient, effective and empowered, and honors the interrelationships and responsibilities of the legal team.

When a paralegal applies these principles, that paralegal becomes empowered. The empowered paralegal is an essential member of the legal team in any office. In particular, the empowered paralegal not only survives, but thrives in the American law office.

Six Easy and Essential Steps for Meeting Deadlines

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

 Deadlines. Dreaded deadlines. Deadly deadlines. Damn deadlines. We could spend the day repeating the many alliterative references for deadlines. 

Deadlines seem to run directly opposite to our efforts to manage our work. Most of them are imposed by someone else – a court, a client, a bank, a boss. We have little or no control over them.  You can control how you manage them and plan for meeting them.

  1. Make a list of the component parts necessary to meet your goal.   
  2. Record essential time requirements on your calendar.  Record not just the dates on which you need to have accomplished the goal, but also the dates on which each essential component must be accomplished. 
  3. Make a plan for accomplishing each component on your list.   If necessary, break these tasks down into smaller components with their own plan.
  4. Record the date on which you must START each part of your plan in order to complete it on time. Build in time for the unexpected. 
  5. Establish reminders for each for each start and end date.  It’s not enough to mark the calendar. We all need “ticklers” to remind us as we go along. In fact, we sometimes become complacent about deadlines because they are on the calendar.  
  6. Review your entire calendar and integrate the new plan into the overall management of your work. Look at events before, during and after the deadline.  If the new event will chew up time you had planned to use completing a task for meeting another deadline, you may need to change one or both plans. 

No one said it would be easy…

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

but no one said it would be this hard. (My apologies to Sheryl Crow ):

In what is characterized as an emotional appeal a Colorado Springs D.A. plead for more money to run his office including $58,302 for a second paralegal in the special victims unit, noting inter alia, “. The unit’s only paralegal juggles 390 cases at once for six attorneys, prepares for trials, lines up witnesses, files motions and tracks court schedules.”

Many paralegals experience a great deal of stress at work.  I like to use this video to illustrate the way may feel at the end of a typical day. The professional paralegal can and does learn how to minimize the stress through time, file, docket, client and attorney management techniques. In the end, though, it doesn’t hurt to have sound stress management techniques among the arrows in your quiver.

Note: As an attorney I suffer from “Latin Phrases Disorder.” We depend on paralegals to understand us when we use terms like “inter alia, ” but not to use them yourselves. Someone has to be able to speak English to the clients.

Note 2:  If one of you knows how to embed youtube videos into a blog post, please take a few moments to instruct me. You can leave a comment or email me at TheEmpoweredParalegal@live.com

Note 3: Here’s a link to Sheryl Crow doing “No One Said It Would Be Easy” in concert.