Superheroes of Malpractice Mitigation

April 29, 2019
Superheroes of Malpractice Mitigation 
by Joseph C. Scott, Chief Strategy Officer
Every year on April 28th we observe “National Superhero Day” to honor superheroes, both real and fictional. Although the real-life superheroes in law firms may not wear capes, they certainly have powers that are super when it comes to defeating their arch nemesis – Calendar Related Errors – the leading cause of malpractice claims. Unlike the fictional villains, calendar related errors are real, and lurk in the shadows everyday just waiting for someone to make a mistake. So perhaps on this April 28th you should take your favorite calendaring/docketing superhero to lunch and say thank you for fighting the good fight every day.
Even though cyberattacks, ransomware, and data breaches are getting more headlines of late, calendar-related errors continue to be the leading risk for malpractice claims and thus present tremendous financial and branding risks to a firm. As all risk-averse attorneys know, it is the diligent calendaring professionals working behind the scenes on those dates and deadlines that enable attorneys to sleep at night. That’s why I think they are the true Superheroes of legal malpractice mitigation.
According to the ABA, over one-third of legal malpractice claims are attributable to deadline and calendaring errors. Such lawsuits can devastate a law firm and the person responsible for the error. But if you have the right people with an automated, rules-based calendaring system double checking your dates and deadlines, that will make all the difference. Using such a system will not only reduce the chance of missing important deadlines, it can also help assure the implementation of best practices and thus should be a critical piece of any firm-wide formal risk management initiative at your firm.

The good news is that with the recent advances in computerized date calculation technology, this software is affordable and manageable for firms of all sizes. That software, along with great people, consistent training and clear guidelines, helps make this major risk relatively easy to prevent. A good legal-specific, automated, rules-based calendaring system with well-trained experts and clear disciplined processes could have prevented most, if not all, of the calendar related problems.

But many malpractice cases involving calendaring or docketing errors were not really about a failed calendaring system, but about a failure in the processes at the firm. Therefore, establishing centralized policies and procedures backed by a firm-wide risk management culture is key to preventing professional liability claims and critical to the long-term health of a law firm. Risk management strategies should be included in every aspect of your practice, particularly with the calendars.

Although technology can be the great equalizer when it comes to risk management, many have learned the hard way that the most important element of any system is still the people. Relying too heavily on technology, while discounting the importance of the people may actually increase your risk, because of the false sense of security it may provide.

And even though we have seen some remarkable technologies make docketing more efficient and less error-prone, docketing and calendaring is not simple data entry. Without knowledgeable, well-trained and detail-oriented docketing people carrying out the actual day-to-day workflow, you are still susceptible to serious errors and major risks, regardless of the technology you are using. Even though the software often seems easier and more intuitive, and can even improve efficiencies and reduce risk, that is only true if the users are at least as competent as the software. You need people with a wealth of legal docketing knowledge and the ability to transfer that understanding into a technological interface. My experience in the industry has taught me that understanding the logic of the software can be as important as understanding the rules.

Even the most skilled and trained professional can only act as a check and balance for the attorneys. Many aspects of calendaring can be delegated to qualified paralegals and legal assistants, but lawyers still need to be in control of the process and, of course, remain ultimately responsible for the outcome.

The bottom line is that technology is only as good as the people who use it, and firms must invest in people and recognize the importance of the human element if they are to reap the full benefits of technology. The most successful docketing professionals are the ones with the most experience working for firms that align people, processes and technology.

With the legal profession poised to experience more dramatic changes in the next ten years than in the last century, it is truly an exciting time with lots of challenges and opportunities.

These extraordinary changes mean extraordinary opportunities, so I encourage you to embrace the changes, embrace the new technologies, embrace the future because if we ever needed an everyday superhero to help us navigate the calendars and the future, it is now.

You are my Superhero. Happy Superhero Day.

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