A colleague recently sent out the following inquiry to our local paralegal association listserve:
Does anyone have a spreadsheet that they use to track their divorce cases? We currently use a hard-copy tickler system, but I am wondering if someone has a comprehensive checklist that might work better.
After a few email exchanges with my colleague, it became clear that the reason she was looking for an alternative system was that the interns in her office were not consistent in utilizing the existing tickler system. This could, and at times would, result in her losing track of certain deadlines and/or filing dates – not a position any paralegal likes to be in!
Having been in practice for over 15 years, I have naturally attempted to implement different tracking systems over the years. One attempt included having a status sheet in each client’s system folder which I would update any time something was done in the case. At that point in time, our firm also employed a hard-copy tickler system, so this worked well enough for a time. Another effort involved creating a spreadsheet of active cases which both the attorney and I could easily pull up and reference to make sure we were not “missing anybody.” Alongside the hard-copy tickler system, this worked well enough too – again, for a time.
I made other efforts over the years, but whether the approach was case specific or based upon a master list of cases, the end result was always the same: I would end up falling behind on whatever spreadsheet or status sheet system I had in place. This was so because such systems basically amount to a secondary filing system with its own demands on your time in an already hectic schedule.
Of course, in those days the computer was utilized more as a convenience and people were still relying heavily on hard copy filing and tickler systems. I was at my firm for several years before they acquired Microsoft Suite. We received some training on the use of Word, but not on any of the other programs included in the package. Also, my attorney (like many others at the time) did not trust the computer and still relied heavily on her appointment book to keep track of her schedule, so it was some time before I had the opportunity to explore Outlook and the benefits it offers, particularly the “reminders” feature that is available for both the calendar and the task list.
Many of you are likely well aware of the benefits of Outlook and are already exploiting the program to your benefit. But I am frequently surprised at how few professionals (attorneys, paralegals and other professionals) fully comprehend the benefits available through this program. And there are some options for how you use it. For example, the attorney I work with now renames the Outlook categories as the names of the clients. She can then choose to sort the task list by category to get an alphabetical listing of the clients or by due date or end date to see what she has coming up. (The tasks cannot be sorted by subject which I find perplexing, and which would eliminate the need to assign a client name as a category.) Of course, you need to keep in mind that there are only so many categories available, so you may need to be choosey as to which clients really require the tracking feature. I personally am only concerned about due dates, so I do not concern myself with the categories feature (at least not in tasks; I am more inclined to use it to color-code my calendared appointments).
As our profession continues to evolve, there are also case management software programs that feature tracking/tickler functions which can take some of the burden off of the paralegal and the attorney. For example, our office now uses ProLaw which includes a feature called “Rule Sets” which can be programmed to assign local rules to specific “events” in a case. “Events” can refer to appointments, documents, emails, voice mails or any occurrence whatsoever in a case file which may be itemized in the virtual case file in ProLaw (technically referred to as the “matter”). ProLaw attaches the appropriate Rule Set to the event and then alerts you when it is time to follow up on the task. For example, ProLaw can alert you once 90 days has elapsed from the date of service of the Divorce Complaint or when the 30-day response period for a discovery request has expired. For other types of deadlines which are not tied to a specific task, you have the option to schedule a reminder which may be added to Outlook via your calendar or task list, or you can direct ProLaw to send you an email reminder on a certain date or dates. I prefer the email option for two reasons: (1) I don’t like to clutter my calendar with items that are not actual appointments; and (2) I have tried the task list option, but found I had to make too many manual modifications in Outlook to get the desired result, i.e., a reminder – essentially annulling the time-saving and non-redundant characteristics the program is intended to avoid.
No matter what system you have in place, it seems we continue to seek the perfect solution, the perfect tracking system. What do you find is your best practice? Has your law firm or other legal office moved toward more automated tracking and tickler systems? If so, is it better? Please leave a comment and share your knowledge and experience with your fellow professionals.
I hope all is well with you and yours.