The False Sense of Security that Comes with Redundant Calendaring Systems
In my experience, almost all lawyers have redundant calendars in place. Often there’s a primary master calendar and some sort of backup, which could be anything from a digital backup to a secretary’s paper calendar. Some attorneys go even further. For example, in addition to a primary master calendar and some sort of backup, there may be a secretary’s paper calendar, a card-based tickler system for critical deadlines, and a calendar kept in reception. Here’s the problem, if your various redundant calendars are all created by copying everything from the primary master calendar, you’re creating a false sense of security because mistakes happen.
As backups, redundant calendars certainly have their place; however, their real value can only be realized when they are created independently from the primary master calendar. Understand that calendaring errors are behind a significant percentage of malpractice claims across the country. Data entry errors — be they an incorrectly entered date or a date that never made it into the calendar — are common.
With this in mind, ask yourself the following. If you or a member of your staff ever happened to incorrectly enter a date on the primary master calendar or failed to glean an important deadline from a document, are you confident either misstep would be caught? If your answer is no, adjustments need to be made.
While there is no one right way to catch calendaring errors, there are two common approaches that can work for any lawyer other than one who is a true solo with no staff. One approach is to assign calendaring responsibilities to two separate individuals. This could be you and a staff member or two separate staff members. Regardless, both individuals need to be responsible for independently maintaining separate calendaring systems. For example, you could choose to be responsible for maintaining your primary master calendar in Outlook and your secretary would be responsible for maintaining a separate paper calendar. Both individuals would need to see and work from original documents. In other words, there is to be no copying of critical deadlines off of the other’s calendar.
The second approach is to have a second set of eyes independently review the accuracy of all calendared entries placed in the primary master calendar by the person responsible for maintaining that system. As above, the person designated with the second set of eyes would need to have in hand all original documents in order to make sure every important date was properly gleaned and accurately entered. By way of example, you might assign calendaring responsibilities to your paralegal. Once their work is completed, all original documents are given to you so you can double-check the accuracy of their calendaring efforts. Now one caution here. Perhaps it’s been eighteen months and, as the second set of eyes, you have yet to come across a data entry error, so you decide that you no longer need to continue reviewing your paralegal’s work because he knows what he’s doing. Resist the temptation to stop the review process for this reason because this process is about quality control, not competency. Again, mistakes happen.
Hopefully, you now appreciate the significant difference between redundant calendaring systems and independent-yet-redundant calendaring systems. With two people involved, the odds that both will make the same calendaring misstep are quite low. At the end of the day, it’s all about trying to catch the occasional data entry error in order to avoid having a critical deadline pass without your knowledge.
Now, one final thought for those of you who are true solos with no staff. I wish I could offer a third approach that might be of use to you. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with one. The best I can do is to encourage you to prioritize the process. Create some sort of backup of your primary calendar because redundancy still has its place. Try not to calendar piecemeal throughout the day. Set time aside so you can focus on this critically important task and take your time. And last, but not least, double check that you have correctly identified and accurately entered all critical deadlines, preferably after allowing a little time to pass. You want to see it with fresh eyes.
Authored by: Mark Bassingthwaighte, Risk Manager
Since 1998, Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1200 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented over 550 continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management, ethics, and technology. Mr. Bassingthwaighte is a member of the State Bar of Montana as well as the American Bar Association where he currently sits on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s Conference Planning Committee. He received his J.D. from Drake University Law School.