It takes two to manage a docket calendar

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. 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.

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