Conflicts and your Calendar: Are conflicts of interest hiding in your docket?
By Kevin Pray, Sr. Director of Product Management
The docket request arrives from a Partner. You look for the record in your calendaring software and find nothing. “I’ve submitted for conflicts review, but I need to my team of Associates to respond to several deadlines immediately, just go ahead and put it on calendar under a temporary billing number…”, says the Partner. One of two things happen next:
- You do add the case and docket the request, and maybe a few weeks later the legal assistant remembers to update you with the actual billing number. The new matter did legitimately take a while to make it through conflicts approval, and required a Conflict of Interest Waiver, to be signed by their GC. In the course of the conflicts work, several new parties were introduced, and their relationships clarified as “substantial”, making it apparent that it was a trickier conflict-of-interest situation than was immediately obvious. But you never heard about any of this, and the information on your docket is not reflective of changes made to the details of the matter. If your firm were audited for a conflict-of-interest concern, would your docket help or hinder?
- Or, you don’t add the case, and you must tell a rainmaker that you (and technically she) are not allowed to work on this matter until it passes conflicts.
How comfortable is that conversation? Do you have backup from the GC to police this rule?
Many firms do not see their docketing or calendaring resources as a complete part of the risk management effort, incorporating all the directives departments like Records, Business Intake, and Accounting follow. The docket, even though it’s purely digital, is as much an Official Firm Record as any Redweld or PDF in the document management system.
Instead, docket departments are viewed as an extension of legal assistants, whose primary focus is providing service to the attorney, rather than to the firm necessarily (a subtle but important distinction). Some may disagree, but the docket department doesn’t actually work for the attorneys, it works for the firm as part of the management controls.
If the firm’s hard and fast policy is that no work must be done in a matter not cleared by conflicts, and perhaps that the firm cannot even be in possession of records or information related to the matter until it is cleared by conflicts, then the docket department ought to feel comfortable enforcing this policy, because they are encouraged to by firm management.
Partners should set the expectation, firmwide, that the docket department should be coordinating with Business Intake and Records, and themselves be open to the idea that a “no” in this instance is an effort to protect the attorney’s professional interests.
These can be tough conversations to have, however. As a former Conflict of Interest Analyst, prior to my years as a docket manager, advising on these kinds of departmental integrations is a part of our client service offering. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to us about a best practices consulting engagement.