The Challenge of Answering Legal Questions…When An Attorney Asks

June 28, 2019
The Challenge of Answering Legal Questions…When An Attorney Asks 
by Kevin Pray, Senior Director of Product Management

Answering questions with precision and accuracy is at the core of what docketing professionals do, dozens of times a day. We have all had questions from attorneys about deadlines or even procedural topics that have the potential to make you break out in full ‘flop sweat’, as you try to untangle the logic behind a statute, when even the attorney was confused by it. As I sat down to grade some docketing exercises today, it occurred to me that it is entirely possible to answer a question too precisely. Let me explain with just the right amount of detail.

First, the background: ALN requires any attorney who applies to help manage our court rules to take a brief test we call the Attorney Exercise, or AE. No, you cannot see it. I was grading them today because I’d heard that not many attorneys do well on the test, despite a range of experience and professional backgrounds. This turned out to be true.

It took me a while to get the grading right, however, because at first I was simply playing T.A. and attempting to grade straight from the answer key. No, you cannot see it. We ask seven questions across three scenarios. But the answers weren’t lining up with what I was seeing on the (barely half a page) answer key. I graded the work of five attorneys, whose returned results ranged from four pages to twenty-five pages, with diagrams. The thought occurred to me: I would never answer an attorney’s question about a deadline like this.

Probably one of the most common types of questions we get requires us to help interpret a law and break down the logic of one or more deadlines, a similar exercise to ALN’s Attorney Exercise. While pondering whether this was how  attorneys answered every question on the Bar Exam, and what a nightmare that must be for the graders, I realized that the communication docketing professionals become skilled at is one of the ‘soft skills’ of working in a law firm, communicating with attorneys in a way that works well with the ‘way attorneys think.’ We all know that nebulous specter.

As we carry on with conversations about how to elevate the role of docketing, docketing professionals should take a moment to consider just how many things you know about how law firms run, how the law works, “who is who” at the firm, and how to do just about anything through proper channels at the place you work. These are ‘soft skills,’ but also unfortunately almost invisible skills.

Docketing professionals work in a niche. Because not many people understand the full extent of what we do, it’s easy for our knowledge to be undervalued. But the knowledge and the feedback you provide us on everything from the technical aspects of the software, to interpretations of rules, is incredibly valuable to us at ALN. I personally hope that you know your worth, to borrow a phrase from a popular social movement, not just because I lived in that world once and believe that docketing expertise is highly undervalued, but because as the role of docketing professionals increases in value to our clients, the value of what we offer does as well. And if you should ever need help answering any of those complex questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team, Joseph Scott, Dan Biegel, or myself.

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