There may be no more deadline-intensive industry than the law. Courts, agencies, and clients are unforgiving when it comes to timeliness. Some days, it feels like it’s all one can do just to keep on top of the calendar. And this is no small issue – according to the American Bar Association, calendaring mistakes are the number one cause of legal malpractice claims.
With all this intense pressure to meet deadlines in mind, we put together some tips for ensuring that projects get done on time, every time. Get your whole office focused on meeting filing deadlines for an all-around smoother internal process.
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#1 – Have one go-to system
One of the easiest ways to miss deadlines is to have them listed in different locations. We all know that one legal professional who has five or six different systems for keeping track of dates – the whiteboard, the sticky note, the smartphone, the computer, and usually a wall calendar just for good measure.
While duplication can provide good reminders, it should not be the fail-safe solution for keeping track of deadlines. First, when you’re tracking deadlines in five different places, chances are you might input the wrong date somewhere. Also, sticky notes fall off computer screens, whiteboards get erased, and smart phones run out of power at the most inconvenient times. In other words, there are too many ways for those systems to fail.
Instead, legal teams should use a unified calendaring system. All dates should be put in that one system and that system should be the go-to place for determining hard deadlines. Of course, you can still use all those other calendaring methods as reminders, but you should never rely on anything but the central system.
#2 – Have a go-to person
If staffing levels allow for it, every legal team should have one primary person who is responsible for calendaring. Typically, this person is a trusted, well-seasoned paralegal or legal assistant. It is someone who knows court rules, agency rules, local rules, and sometimes even the personal preferences of court clerks.
Some attorneys view calendaring as a menial task that is best assigned to a junior member of the team. This is a mistake. There are so many intricacies to consider when setting and meeting deadlines. Given how great the risks of a missed deadline can be, calendaring is one of the most important tasks within any legal group.
#3 – Schedule time to discuss deadlines
In addition to having go-to systems and people responsible for calendaring, it is important for legal teams to hold regular meetings to discuss nothing but deadlines. These meetings are productive for a number of reasons.
Primarily, they ensure that every member of the team is aware of the hard deadlines. Moreover, the group can set internal deadlines such as when the first draft of a legal brief will go from the junior associate to the partner for review. This is also a good time to determine which legal professionals are overloaded with projects and can be a great opportunity for redistributing tasks.
This sharing of deadline-related information can also be a reminder to all that:
#4 – Meeting deadlines is a global responsibility
One of the biggest mistakes a young legal professional can make is to assume that just because their part of a project is done before the deadline, the deadline will be met. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Take a legal brief, for example. Just because the body of the brief is written does not mean it is ready to be filed. A partner may need to review and revise it. Somebody else may be responsible for checking the citations within the brief. Another person may have responsibility for ensuring it is formatted properly for the court. Each of those steps can take a significant amount of time.
To ward off last-minute stressors, internal deadlines can be set to facilitate production of a final, file-worthy product. For instance, a first draft could be due to the senior partner one week before the filing deadline, with the final draft due to administrative staff 48 hours before filing. Regardless of the precise system, these internal deadlines can take a lot of stress out of the ultimate due-date.
Importantly, the key to all these tips is to build a dedicated legal team that communicates early and often about deadlines and the expectations surrounding deadlines. If you can do that, risks will diminish, stress will lessen, and success will surge.
How does your law firm practice meeting filing deadlines? Share your strategies in the comments!