Corporate legal needs a better docket

Try these four improvements

When you complain about law firm billing rates being higher than ever, don’t forget about one of the chief benefits of using outside firms: They absorb and manage tremendous stress associated with litigation and other projects.

This includes tracking and meeting the deadlines that drive legal work, particularly in litigation and compliance. The consequences of a missed deadline can be severe, unforgiving and career-limiting.

For this reason, law firms have invested in “deadline infrastructure,” including docket systems, automated reminders, court deadline calculators and Outlook calendar integrations. Deadlines are their business. They take them seriously.

Those deadlines are often quite important to corporate counsel, too, as the people responsible for making sure the business delivers what it needs for the case, like documents, deposition appearances and approval of key filings and correspondence. All of those have deadlines too, which corporate counsel needs to understand in order to report status back to the business.

But when we asked corporate counsel how they stay aligned with their law firms on deadlines, the answer was surprisingly primitive. In most cases, law firms share upcoming deadlines on each case separately, usually in the form of periodic calendars (often PDFs) sent around by email. Corporate counsel is on their own to get key dates out of email and into their own calendars, making it difficult to have a view of deadlines across all cases and law firms.

The heart of the problem is that corporate counsel don’t have direct access to the deadline infrastructure of their law firms. If they did, the result would be tighter coordination and less effort (including billed time) spent communicating and managing them through old fashioned methods.

Here are some modern ways to bridge this gap:

Share calendar events. One of the simplest tools for calendar coordination is built right into Outlook, which is the ability to invite anyone to an event that’s already on their calendar. Once accepted, that event is synced, so if it changes, it’s reflected on everyone’s calendars. For key events, this is a simple way that your law firms can tighten communication.

Use the event notes. The notes field in any calendar event is a place where you can store key details, and even attach documents. Ask your counsel to try using this space to collect reference information for the deadline. They’ll need to be careful of apps, like Zoom, that also put things in the notes field, but there’s no practical limit on what can be stored there.

Make a group. Calendars in both Outlook and Google allow you to form group calendars, which you can ask your law firms to create for a case or project. Once you are subscribed, you can see the group calendar next to or (at your option) integrated with your personal calendar.

When the group calendar includes all case deadlines, the result might be information overload. There are plenty of case deadlines that corporate counsel doesn’t need to track.

Get a true shared calendar. Our platform, Joinder, makes it easy for your outside firms to share their deadlines, with the important ones flowing directly to your calendar. Even more, you’ll see the underlying tasks, information and documents that you need to manage your part and report to the business. It’s the deadline infrastructure that corporate counsel deserve.

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