Implementing Electronic Docketing in the 21st Century

June 7, 2012

Trend Watch

IMPLEMENTING ELECTRONIC DOCKETING IN THE 21ST CENTURY

By Rosemary Milew and David Glynn

Remember the days when attorneys docketed their cases in their firm's red leather diary? Though this was not too long ago, it's amazing to see how the functions of that simple red leather diary have transformed into today's sophisticated electronic case, calendar and docket management system running on tablets and laptop computers.

As the practice of law has become more comprehensive and modern, so has the record keeping that is necessary to docket past case histories and diary future court dates. And, as law firms expand their practices nationally, they are demanding centralized electronic case, calendar and docket management systems for cost saving, consistent processing and risk mitigation reasons.

As the firm's administrator, you have an important role to play in determining how well an electronic docketing solution will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your personnel, how it will complement the other applications in the firm and how it will ultimately meet the firm's overall needs. When reviewing case, calendar and docket management products, your firm should consider the following:

Product Features

Scalability: Make sure the product will be robust enough to handle the firm's case load, number of attorneys and support staff. Some leading products have limitations in their ability to scale up to large firm volumes. If the product does provide enough data capacity for the firm's cases, then the important thing to determine is whether or not the form fields have what the firm will require to record cases and associated events — both historical or future.

Content: Choosing a system that has built-in, authoritative and dynamically updated content is key to reducing the amount of manual data entry by your firm's docketing staff, and provides the firm added notification of upcoming hearings and deadlines. Look into what additional content the product provides, such as automated court hearing notification (court calendars), automated court rules generation or auto loading of court dockets. If the software provider offers these options, be sure to find out what jurisdictions are covered. Most leading products offer one or more of the added content items that are described above.

Accuracy: Examine what features are in place to decrease duplicate entries. For example, is there a "type ahead" feature? Also, if you are interrupted at work, you will want to be able to easily identify the most recently entered information.

Searching and Reports: How easy is it to locate information in the docket? For example, can the information be filtered by attorney or cause of action? Investigate what kind of reports the software generates, whether it offers the ability to schedule and automatically distribute reports, and if so, what format it will provide (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel, HTML, PDF, etc.).

Security: Who can have access to the product? Having the ability to set security roles so that some lawyers and staff members may have read-only access is important, especially in the case of intense litigation. Can a non-docket staff member enter and retrieve information? Another great question to ask is whether auditing logs are available for error-checking.

Software Installation and Configuration

Installation: Inquire about the product software and database installation, along with the database licensing inclusion, which are essential for your checklist. Do the software instances and database require back-up and how does the software and database (if needed) fit into the firm's business continuity plans? If the firm has a Citrix model, make sure the product can operate in Citrix mode. Also ask if personnel can access this product from remote locations, such as from home in the case of a disaster recovery situation. Or is it a web-based application that requires none of the above?

Interoperability: Check to see if the product integrates with the firm's version of Microsoft Exchange or its other programs, such as document management or knowledge management, which will save a lot of time and energy. Also, ask if the calendar notices reach the attorneys' mobile/tablet devices.

Licensing: How does the licensing agreement work? Find out if there is a large upfront cost and then annual/monthly maintenance payments or if there is solely a subscription-based system. Ask if the contents, such as rules or court calls, are sold separately.

Training/Support: Training is an important element to consider so the software you purchase is adopted and used for the full benefit of your firm's lawyers and staff. Are initial and ongoing training and customer support included in the cost, and if not, what is the cost for training? Consider how you will orient newly hired employees to use the product.

Data Conversion: Be sure to ask how to import your existing information into the new system. Is the transfer included, and if not, what is the additional cost and time involved?

Customization: Is the new product customizable? If yes, explore which features/portions are customizable and how easy it is to customize on your own, or if you will need to hire outside consultants to help.

These are the critical questions that need to be addressed when purchasing and installing case, calendar and docket management software. That red leather diary might still look attractive, so by all means, keep it on your desk as a memento. As a firm administrator, you are a most valuable resource in helping your firm choose and make the transition to the best case, calendar and docket management solution.

Rosemary G. Milew is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for JuraLaw™ and Law Bulletin Publishing Company. David Glynn is the Vice President of Docket Management Technologies for JuraLaw™ and Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Prior to joining Law Bulletin, Mr. Glynn was a legal administrator for a mid-sized Chicago law firm.

This article originally appeared in ALA Currents, published by the Association of Legal Administrators (www.alanet.org), and is reprinted here with permission.