Standardize Firm-Wide Calendar & Task Management

May 29, 2018 by Peggy Friedhoff

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  – Steven Covey

Improving organizational efficiency has become a must for today’s busy law firm. The need to save time, money and effort has caused firms to re-evaluate organizational and practice management processes.

Part of this requirement to be more efficient is driven by industry wide-trends, including:

Standardize Calendar-Task Mgmt

 

FIRM-WIDE CALENDAR & TASK MANAGEMENT SHOULD BE ON YOUR RADAR

Implementing a software solution that streamlines and standardizes calendar, task and matter management will help a firm to proactively address these trends and establish a positive, move forward attitude.

The benefits of a firm-wide calendar and task management system include:

  • Gets everyone on the same page and working together
  • Simplifies and speeds up access to client/matter information
  • Provides quick, easy and accurate data entry
  • Minimize mistakes and instills confidence in your data
  • Centralizes and automates changes / administration
  • Standardizes training and support

What’s holding firms back?

So why do firms hesitate – or stall completely – when contemplating a firm-wide standard for calendar management? Our research and feedback from legal professionals, CEO’s, CIO’s, IT staff and various others suggests one or more of the following concerns:

  1. It is difficult to get a consensus from everyone
  2. Our attorneys are comfortable with Microsoft Outlook calendars
  3. Calendar/Task management is important – but other needs take priority
  4. Cost/Budget issues

Are these valid reasons? Absolutely. However, improvements in software design have greatly reduced – and in some cases eliminated – the concerns that have historically stalled standardized calendar management solutions from being implemented firm-wide.

ANALYZE YOUR SITUATION

The need for better, faster calendar/task/matter management is universal.  Attorneys in all practice groups rely on good information and need to be absolutely confident that they are accessing the most up to date, accurate information.

Before considering a new approach, it is critical to understand what your practice groups and users are presently doing. How are they managing their critical dates? What workflows have they created to triage important deadlines, tasks and associated files?  Where are the potential risks?  Can the duplicate steps be eliminated? Are your attorneys, support staff, and practice groups working together efficiently? Where can they use help?

Is Microsoft Office appropriate for Practice Management?

You might be surprised at the amount of matter information your practice groups are currently tracking in Microsoft Outlook, Excel Spreadsheets, Word Tables and our favorite, plain old paper.  This is not their fault.  Without the help of a firm-wide standard, attorneys and staff have little choice but to create their own solutions and innovative work-arounds with the tools that are available to them.

The screen clip below illustrates a common scenario in law firms across the country.  A practice group enters important matter information into an Excel worksheet – much of it schedule or date related.  This allows them to organize, track and collaborate on information.

Time Comparison Chart

At first glance, this might seem very helpful – but let’s examine this process a little closer.

  1. Manual Entry required:  All information needs to be manually entered into the spreadsheet. There are no links or imports from other firm-wide systems such as a Billing or Document Management.  There are no validated lookup lists, no automated data entry, and no scheduling templates.
  2. Duplication into Outlook Calendar(s):  Once entered into the spreadsheet, this information needs be duplicated into Outlook Calendars. This requires retyping all of the same information.  The likelihood of mistakes or typos significantly increases with each data entry duplication. Unfortunately, Outlook Calendars are not much more sophisticated for tracking matter schedules than Word or Excel.  There is no Client/Matter number, no automatic reminders, no central calendar, no data protection, etc.
  3. Information is not convenient to access.  Attorneys need to find and open up the spreadsheet or more often than not, it needs to be printed.
  4. No audit trail of who changed what and when:  There is very limited security or protection.  Anyone can make a change.  This can create doubt or concern when the data in Excel does not match the data in Outlook.
  5. Maintenance Nightmare:  Editing and keeping information up to date and accurate in multiple locations is difficult, stressful, and time-consuming.

The process of using native Microsoft Outlook (along with Excel or Word) to track matter information is very common in the legal industry.  This is surprising considering that all law firms have an established, highly standardized Client / Matter structure that is being used for Financial Management and Document Management. Why isn’t this same Client /Matter structure being used for Calendar / Task Management?

What is the true cost of these inefficiencies?

How much are processes and inefficiencies like this “costing” law firms in terms of time, money and effort.  At least 1+ hour / per week / per person according to direct time comparisons between the “creative spreadsheet + Outlook” method and the use of well-designed legal calendar / matter management software.

This adds up extremely quickly, and does not factor in the cost of data entry errors, or consider intangibles such as poor access, auditing, reporting, convenience, etc.

THE SOLUTION IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Practice groups and firms can easily correct these inefficiencies by implementing a firm-wide standard for legal calendaring.   Replacing the use of Excel Worksheets and Word Tables with a well-designed matter database will provide immediate cost savings and efficiency benefits through improved data entry, better access to information, fewer errors, enhanced risk management and better client service.

Guidelines to get you started

Step 1 – Get Management buy-in:  First and possibly most important, it is essential to have firm management 100% behind the project.  Discuss recent trends with your firm leaders and how these trends are negatively affecting efficiency; make sure they are aware of the time and effort practice groups are currently putting into their manual processes.

Step 2 – Prepare for user resistance:  As we all know, people will resist change, even if it might be “good for them.”  Accept the challenge and do not be discouraged.  Ask them to explain how they are currently managing matter information.  Help them understand where the inefficiencies are and tell them that you have some ideas on how to simplify and save them time.  It will be easy to demonstrate how and why this will help them and the firm.

Step 3 – Make the right software selection:  There are many good software programs available in the market today. Take your time and make a good selection. Key considerations include:

  • Does the program address the needs of the entire firm – both Litigation and Transactional practice groups?
  • Is the software customizable to meet unique or specific needs?
  • Is the software modular or extendable?  How does the software work for one practice group that only wants “calendaring” while another practice group needs to track additional matter information such as contacts (related parties), notes and custom fields?
  • Will it integrate with your existing Billing and/or Document Management systems?  Is it all linked by Client / Matter number?
  • Does it have “legal specific” functionality?
  • Can the software do more than just legal calendaring (for example, can it also track marketing events and employee PTO?)

Step 4 – Incorporate Microsoft Outlook into your solution:  It is important to understand that Microsoft Outlook is part of the legal culture.   You cannot take Outlook calendars away and expect users to embrace the new solution.  Fortunately, there are excellent software solutions that seamlessly integrate with Outlook, providing your users with the information they need within the friendly environment of Microsoft Outlook.

Step 5 – Do it right:  Cost justification is not going to be your problem.  The amount of time and effort saved with the right solution will be very impactful.  Make sure to think through the small details.  Incorporate all aspects of calendaring – legal and non-legal.  Make sure your users completely understand why the firm is making this commitment.  Actual training will be simple, and your users will quickly adapt.  When they understand the benefits, and have their concerns addressed, they will embrace and benefit from the system.

Step 6 – Take action:  Don’t procrastinate.  Calendar/Task/Matter management is too important.  Do your homework and reach out to your software consultant, vendor, or colleagues in other firms.  Enroll in some online webinars on the topic and schedule a customized demonstration for your firm. Once you find the right fit, sit back and let your staff enjoy the results – and the extra time you just saved the firm.

SUMMARY:

With the evolving trends in the legal industry, it is clear that law firms need to be as efficient as possible. Calendar/task/matter management is an essential component of everyday life and can be easily improved.

In the movie A Field of Dreams, the character Terence Mann says, “If you build it they will come.”  This is appropriate when considering the implementation of calendar/task/matter management. If you do a good job implementing a firm-wide solution, your attorneys and staff most certainly will use it and benefit.


John BrookbankJohn Brookbank, jbrookbank@beclegal.com

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