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Last updated: May 2022
Tickler system. Litigation calendar. Limitations diary.
Whatever you call it and whether you are setting it up for the first time or upgrading what you already use, the following are some things to consider when selecting a limitations software package for your firm.
|Key Features of a Limitations System|
|2. Used by the entire firm|
|3. Data backed up regularly|
|4. Automatic reminders to responsible lawyers|
|5. Alerts to colleagues on key dates|
Everything in One Place
To keep track of the deadlines in your practice, you want all the relevant dates and reminders in one place.
Wherever that is, the information needs to be accessible by more than one person. You should not depend on just one person to retrieve all reminders and take the necessary actions. It is also a good idea to build in an automatic safety net by allowing another staff member to access calendar reminders when the responsible person is unavailable or forgets to take a step.
Electronic Calendar with Universal Access
A firm that allows its lawyers to maintain separate, inaccessible, limitation diaries on paper calendars is courting disaster. Mistakes will be made. Deadlines will slip through the cracks.
To minimize the risks, firms should consider using a shared electronic calendar system. To maximize the benefits, everyone – including all lawyers and support staff – should participate using a single system. Having multiple competing systems will be confusing and not nearly as effective.
A number of software options exist on the market today. Some are specifically designed for lawyers and focus on limitations and calendaring. Others are part of broader practice management packages you may already be using. Packages are available to suit most budgets.
Ease of Use
If a system is cumbersome or difficult to use, it will quickly become ‘shelfware.’ Law firms should take their time in choosing a system that is intuitive and easy to use.
Since files within practice areas will often have similar deadlines, law firms should look for templates and workflows to avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time a new file is opened.
Reminders should include:
- the exact step to be taken;
- the date the step must be done; and
- who is responsible to take the step.
Reminders and Escalation
Another helpful feature of a limitations software system is generating automatic reminders without requiring a member of your staff to manually send notifications.
It is also critically important to prevent reminders from passing unattended.
You can either require lawyers to confirm in the system that the required step has been taken, or use a platform that automatically ‘escalates’ a reminder to another team member if a step is not addressed. Several of the packages mentioned in the companion piece to this article will do this for you.
Single or Multiple Reminders
For some steps such as file reviews and contacting the client, a single reminder is enough.
For more critical and time-consuming events such as deadlines to commence proceedings, questioning and trial dates, a series of cascading warnings (e.g., three months, three weeks, one week, one day) may be more appropriate. The system should account for these variables easily and automatically.
It should also account for holidays, illnesses, and other absences from the office. Designate a backup lawyer to receive reminders any time the primary lawyer is away, whether planned or otherwise.
Limitation deadlines to commence proceedings are often years away. If a client’s claim is against a municipality, it may only be a few months before a step needs to be taken. An appeal deadline may be only weeks away and other filing deadlines are counted in days.
A well-designed system will accommodate all of these time frames. It will let lawyers and staff enter and retrieve dates quickly and easily, and have those reminders immediately appear in the law firm’s calendar.
The system should accommodate one-time events like limitation deadlines as well as recurring events like client reporting and annual filing requirements.
Given the value of the information on files, security experts suggest that it is a question of when, not if, your law firm will be the subject of a cyber attack. Also, computers can crash, be damaged, stolen or simply fail due to old age.
If your firm loses access to its calendar, the consequences can be significant, so a limitations system should not be located in just one place or on just one computer.
If storing electronic data on a server, as with all electronic data, limitations systems should be backed up nightly to an offsite location. Remember to regularly test your backups to make sure they actually work.
It is important that everyone is trained – lawyers and support staff – on the limitations system and provided with a shared understanding of the importance of a comprehensive, up-to-date limitations calendar.
If replacing an older system, law firms may encounter resistance to the change. Before making the switch, a law firm should consider how the team will react and where there will be pain points. The reasons for the change and benefits of the new system should be explained.
Many software providers will provide training, often as part of the purchase price.
A well-constructed limitations system will help avoid many mistakes related to deadlines and limitations. Using the appropriate software to organize and monitor those deadlines is key.
If you have any questions about limitations systems and software, reach out to our Legal Technology and Mentorship department.