Court deadline rules can be incredibly complicated, particularly for civil litigators, and even the most meticulous lawyers and legal assistants can miss an important date. There are different rules when dealing with mailing deadlines or holidays and weekends. Additionally federal, state, and local courts all have individual rules, and even some federal courts are different from district to district and within divisions of the district. In the past, managing these deadlines was a full time job, but rules-based docketing and scheduling technologies have emerged that are more accurate and less time consuming.
In this episode of The Un-Billable Hour, Christopher Anderson interviews Carol Lynn Grow and Jack Grow from Law Toolbox about the risks inherent in deadline-driven practices and why it is important to manage law firm risk with rules-based docketing. They discuss malpractice claims and explain how the technology can reduce your firm’s risk which often reduces malpractice insurance rates. Rules-based docketing, they explain, can collaborate with the cloud-based softwares you already use, like Clio, Office 365, or LexisNexis Firm Manager. Tune in to hear about how the software works, which practice areas can benefit from using it, and how lawyers approach cost recovery.
Carol Lynn Grow graduated from the University of Colorado School of Business in 1990 and worked for an aluminum manufacturing company in Tokyo using her Japanese language skills to facilitate negotiations with international countries. She spent seven years at IBM in Tokyo and Boulder, Colorado, managing global procurement of manufacturing supplies and distribution. Since 2001, Carol Lynn has overseen the marketing and channel partners for Law Toolbox.
Jack Grow is an attorney experienced in civil litigation emphasizing appeals and commercial disputes and insurance coverage. In addition to practicing law, Jack developed and delivered Law Toolbox, a product to help lawyers automate deadlines based on rules promulgated by the courts in which they practice. Since its introduction in 1999, Law Toolbox has evolved and now calculates deadlines, instantly updates those deadlines to attorneys and their support staff to give them summary reports, sends emails to the users and even sends practice tips and a first draft to the pleadings that are due.
Un-Billable Hour: Managing Law Firm Risk with Rules-Based Docketing – 5/17/2015
Advertiser: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of the Un-Billable Hour, the law practice advisory podcast. This is where you’ll get the information you’ll need from expert guests, and host Christopher Anderson. Here, on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher Anderson: Welcome to the Un-Billable Hour, the law practice advisory podcast, helping attorneys improve their practices. We’re glad you can listen today on the Legal Talk Network. I’m your host, Christopher Anderson. I am an attorney with a singular passion for helping other lawyers be more successful with their law firms. I work directly with lawyers across the country to help them achieve success in their law firm business. I have built and managed law firms in Georgia and New York, created innovative software for lawyers at LexisNexis, as well as served as a prosecutor in New York City. Asa business owner first and as an attorney, I believe you should have a law firm that works for you. In this program, I have a chance to speak to you, as I do in presentations across the country, about what it takes to build and operate your law firm like the business that it is. I have a chance to introduce you to a new guest each month, to talk about how to make that business work for you, instead of the other way around. Today’s episode of the Un-billable-Hour is Managing Law Firm Risk with Rules-Based Docketing. My guests today are Carol Lynn and Jack Grow of Law Toolbox. They’re located in Denver, Colorado. Carol Lynn and Jack are principals of Law Toolbox. Carol Lynn graduated from the University of Colorado School of Business in 1990 and worked for an aluminum manufacturing company in Tokyo using her Japanese language skills to facilitate negotiations with international companies. She spent seven years at IBM in Tokyo and Boulder, Colorado, managing global procurement of manufacturing supplies and distribution. Carol Lynn has overseen the marketing and channel partners for Law Toolbox since about 2001. Jack is an attorney experienced in civil litigation emphasizing appeals and commercial disputes and insurance coverage. In addition to practicing law, Jack developed and delivered a product to help lawyers automate deadlines based on rules promulgated by the courts in which they practice. Since its introduction in 1999, Law Toolbox has evolved and now calculates deadlines, instantly updates those deadlines to attorneys and their support staff to give them summary reports, sends emails reminders to the users and even sends practice tips and a first draft to the pleadings that are due. We’ll be sharing their website and other ways to get in touch with them during the show. But today we’re going to be talking to Carol Lynn and Jack about the risks inherent in the deadline-driven practices in which many attorneys practice and why it is important to manage law firm risk with rules-based docketing. Jack has faced this own issue in his practice and has helped many lawyers serve their clients better and run their businesses more efficiently. So welcome Carol Lynn, welcome Jack.
Jack Grow: Thanks, Chris, glad to be here.
Carol Lynn Grow: Yes.
Christopher Anderson: So let’s just start first with understanding the problem more clearly. What are the risks lawyers face around deadlines?
Jack Grow: Well, 30% of all malpractice claim against attorneys are oriented around some version of missing a deadline, whether it’s not knowing a deadline, or knowing the deadline and not properly keeping track of it. So what are product does is it addresses that need. Because in any practice, if you can’t address risk like that, you’re not going to sleep well at night. So our core function is to deliver peace of mind.
Christopher Anderson: And what practice areas are most affected by these deadline types of problems?
Jack Grow: Our rule-based deadline calculators are orientated towards civil litigation, state and federal court. The reason why it’s oriented towards that is because that’s where deadlines really matter. If you miss a deadline in those courts, the court considers it a violation of protocol. They’re giving you the opportunity to litigate in front of them and if you miss a deadline, they can use that as a docket-clearing mechanism.
Christopher Anderson: Are litigators the only types of practices that really face deadline problems and need to have some sort of rule-based docketing to help them mitigate that risk?
Jack Grow: We have other products, we have a product for managing trademarks, we also have one for franchise, and importantly we also have a product where people can – if they have administrative procedures or things that are unique to their own practice – they can build their own calculators and templates.
Christopher Anderson: So with your experience in the marketplace area, what you’re saying is that litigators are certainly impacted, but these other practice areas that you’ve noticed have the same problem.
Jack Grow: Absolutely, absolutely.
Christopher Anderson: Carol Lynn, now that Jack has helped us to understand the pain a little bit, tell me a little bit more about what rule-based docketing is. How does that address the pain point that Jack has described?
Carol Lynn Grow: Well, rule-based docketing is a systematic way to consistently track deadlines off of what we call a trigger date. So the trigger date might be, for example, the date of commencement, the beginning of the case or a complaint or an answer can trigger deadlines. Trial date is a well know one of those. And so rule-based docketing allows you to use these formulas that run off of each of the trigger dates to automatically generate the deadlines. So, for example, in L.A. County Superior Court, you may have about 60 or 70 deadlines that run off the trial date commencement, basically the commencement of a trial. And so automating those deadlines in a systematic way reduces the chance for error and typos.
Christopher Anderson: Okay, so if I’m understanding this right, what you do is you say that certain events happen in the lifetime of a case from inception on through, and each one of those events create new deadlines.
Carol Lynn Grow: That’s right.
Christopher Anderson: Sometimes one, sometimes many.
Carol Lynn Grow: And sometimes some of the dates are going to be running off of the scheduling order, for example, and they’re not going to be calculated dates; perhaps those have been identified to you by the judge. So it is a combination of deadlines that get calculated based off rules and then some of the dates are going to be fill in the bank.
Christopher Anderson: I think Jack did a good job of explaining the risks, but why should attorneys be paying attention to using automated tools rather than the way they used to do things?
Carol Lynn Grow: One of the best examples would be when an attorney is going to feel a whole lot more comfortable relying on their staff if they know their staff are using a systematic approach that they can rely on. They’re more likely to allow people to get involved in doing some of that procedure if they know that they’ve got a reliable foundation and they don’t need to do that much double checking.
Christopher Anderson: Okay.
Jack Grow: Can I just add one piece to that?
Christopher Anderson: Yeah.
Jack Grow: When we used to walk into law firms, and sometimes we still walk into law firms, where people are calculating their deadlines literally on their fingers where they have developed some kind of mechanism to track things on paper and that person maybe leaves the firm and then their entire docketing system goes up in smoke because nobody knows how to use it or how the person that was managing the deadlines, how they were doing, what the tools were. So when we actually automate that process, it’s not just taking over that, but some of these calculations are incredibly complex. And in federal court, you may have a situation where you have a trigger date, you add 21 days to it. If that lands on a holiday, you have to add another day forward to the next business date. And then if that has been mailed, you have 3 days. If that deadline lands on a holiday or a weekend, you have to roll that forward again. And when you’re going forward in time in federal court, you’ve taken to account the federal rules, the federal holidays. When you’re going backwards in time, you have to take in account both the federal and the state holidays. So the court in their effort to make it harder to miss a deadline has made it much more complex to actually calculate.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah, the complexities sound huge and you’re just describing one court. And that brings up the next question I was really interested in, which is you described federal court, and from my experience, even some federal courts are different from district to district and even within divisions of that district and even sometimes individual judges. So there are hundreds and hundreds of jurisdictions across the countries; federal jurisdictions, state jurisdictions, each with their own – sometimes, as you described – complex rules. How does a company like yours or other kinds of companies that build these kind of rules determine what the rules are and keep them accurate?
Jack Grow: Absolutely, so what we do is when we are building a rule set, we have attorneys going in and interpreting those rules. They may interpret the federal rules of civil procedure, then they go and they look at the local rules, and in some instances they drill down into the judge’s rules, as you were describing. So first we have to have a system for creating that and understanding and interpreting those rules and we have to do that on a venue by venue basis. So you can’t roll out one product that works across the entire United States, you have to look at each individual product. In fact, we’ve even seen some jurisdictions – they’ve changed this about 4 or 5 years ago – but there was actually one jurisdiction that had not adopted FRCP changed from 2002. And so you have this complex mesh of deadlines. So we track those deadlines, we have attorneys interpret that, and we get client feedback to make sure that we’ve tailored everything just right and we put it out there. But then importantly, once you’ve put that product out there, really building a calculator can in many ways be the easiest part. Then what we do is we have a technology that goes out and monitors the court websites for rule changes. So several years ago, it was more of an ad hoc process, now the court’s kind of the protocol for managing deadlines and have become much more uniform across states and they’re adopting similar approaches. One monitored the court websites for specific changes, and as soon as there’s a change to one of these changes where the rules are posted, we get notified of that.
Christopher Anderson: So what’s interesting about this is you’ve described early that a lot of malpractice results from failure to meet deadlines. But when you first say that, it sounds like that’s because some lawyers are really lazy or they fall asleep on it or they don’t record it right. But it sounds like it’s actually really hard as a practitioner to keep up with this. So this rule-based docketing helps to mitigate that risk.
Jack Grow: Absolutely.
Christopher Anderson: So Carol Lynn, this is making me wonder, what did attorneys do before this kind of technology existed?
Carol Lynn Grow: Well, I believe that back in the day, they would keep books on their shelves and sit through a book to find a rule reference. And as deadlines started to be available on the internet, then they would go look up each deadline individually on the internet.
Christopher Anderson: You guys encounter a lot of law firms today. Are you experiencing that some law firms are still doing it the old fashioned way?
Jack Grow: Absolutely. There are jurisdictions where there are these wheels that people turn on a piece of paper and they add 28 days to a deadline. Of course, that’s not taking into account holidays, it’s not taking into accounts service of mail and different things of that nature. But as soon as we walk in, we show them our way of doing it and people take those and put it in the trashcan because it’s inefficient and a dangerous way to manage deadlines. And when you’re managing deadlines, the point you were making earlier is that you may get 18 out of 20 deadlines right, but there may be one deadline that you miss that is critical to your case. Whether it’s the deadline for filing a motion for summary judgement, and you’ve spent a bunch of time and billed your client a lot of money to put that motion together, and if you miss that deadline, a lot of courts will just say you’re out of time. You missed the deadline, we’re not filing that.
Christopher Anderson: You guys have been helping lawyers with this for more than 16 years. What has changed since the earlier days when you were helping them to now and the ability of a company like yours to automate the rules? Has it improved, has it been the same, what’s changed over the years?
Jack Grow: Absolutely. So we’ve always been a web-based company. In fact, when we had our first client in 1999 and we walked into the law firm to do a demo, the IT team was there ready to install software, and we said no need for that, just open up a browser. And everybody watched in disbelief as we put in the user ID and password. And at that time, they were wondering where this information was going, who was seeing this information. So one of the big changes that we’ve seen is that way back then, a big hurdle was is it safe to put information up on the internet, on the cloud. The words have changed over the years, there seems to be a new term every two years. However, nowadays, if something’s not up on the cloud, people feel like it isn’t a forward-leaning technology and they’re not as comfortable with it. And now people have that need and that expectation that it’s going to be a cloud-based product. That’s one of the big changes.
Christopher Anderson: That totally makes sense. Carol Lynn, the court rules are certainly valuable as we’ve described there’s all these different deadline-driven rules that are promulgated by the courts. I think you guys have made it really clear how lawyers keeping track of it by themselves without the software is fraught with potential problems. But what about other deadline-driven workflows? So you mentioned early on, Jack, that there are other practice areas like intellectual property that aren’t necessarily court-driven. So Carol Lynn, can software like this help them with rules or deadline-driven practices that aren’t necessarily driven by court deadlines?
Carol Lynn Grow: Absolutely. Administrative is one of the examples. A big up and coming area for us is in the area of regulatory deadlines, especially in larger firms. And with our new build your own deadline templates, it makes it very easy for somebody in the organization to – in the time it make take them to generate their deadlines based on a checklist – they just save the checklist online. And then everybody in the organization can become more systematic for any type of practice. And it really goes beyond creating deadline templates for a specific practice area. You can also, for example, basically customize the court rules by overlaying a deadline template onto the court rules. So one example would be, for example, insurance defense. Various insurance companies have a set of internal deadlines that law firms need to report back to the adjusters. And so that’s another important component. And one of the key items that really make or break our docketing system is the ability to customize – not so much customize, but edit the deadlines to reflect orders. So at first glance, when a litigator is considering using a docketing system, they usually will brush it off and think to themselves that my practice is too complex or on my cases, I stipulate case management orders where some of the deadlines change. And so the most important component is the ability to edit and make it customized to your particular case and make that all easy.
Christopher Anderson: Let’s do this, we’re going to take a break and hear from our sponsors real quick. And then we’re going to come back in and then Jack I’m going to ask you about how hooking up with other cloud-based softwares have become really important over the years.
Jack Grow: Sounds great.
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Christopher Anderson: Alright, we’re back with Carol Lynn and Jack Grow. Jack, before we left I told you I was going to ask you how rule-based docketing software can talk with other software. And the reason I wanted to ask that is because you made a point that when you started in this yourself, that convincing people that things were safe in the cloud was a big hurdle. Today, lawyers more and more and more are operating in the cloud using Microsoft 365, using products like Clio or Rocket Matter or Firm Manager to manage their cases in the cloud. And their calendars are being managed in the cloud on Google Calendar or on – like I said – Microsoft 365. So what has changed with the ability of rule-based docketing systems like yours to talk with all these other softwares that are out there. Has that become possible?
Jack Grow: Oh, absolutely. So the first big movement in this base for us was to get on the internet. And now we’re experiencing the second big evolution of these products – not just our product, but all of these legal technology products. And it’s the ability of these products to talk to each other behind the scenes. And why that’s so important, is that if you have two isolated systems, then you go to your case management system, you have to enter your matter information and all of that independently, then you go back to a deadline system and you have to enter it again. Now when these systems can now talk to each other behind the scenes, it allows for a unified legal ecosystem. And that’s really a critical concept. So it allows people to take all of these different products that are important to their practice – and that will vary depending on whether you’re a solo practitioner of a small law firm, or a medium to large law firm, you’re going to have a need for different types of products. So with the ability of these websites, including ours to now talk to other products behind the scenes, you can now create a mashup of different products that is seamless to the end user. So law firms are able now – and a lot of differences in its growing trend is it’s going to be broader and it’s going to adopted faster. They’re now able to create the perfect product for them, and then when their needs change, they’re able to evolve into different sets of products seamlessly.
Christopher Anderson: Now when you described this to me earlier, you talked about using APIs to do that, and I told you a lot of my audience might not understand what APIs are. First of all, what does API stand for?
Jack Grow: Application provider something. Haha, what is it? I don’t know.
Christopher Anderson: Describe what it is, what does an API do?
Jack Grow: Okay, an API is basically a way that servers behind the scenes can talk to each other. And so what happens is that there’s a communication where it’ll be posting to one server and it’ll be this is the information I have and this is the information I’m looking for. The other server will respond to that and basically say okay, given the information you’ve provided me, here’s all of these numbers and different pieces of information and it’ll feed it back to the other server. So behind the scenes, these servers are talking to each other in their computer language and what the end user sees is none of that. What the end user sees is they start typing in the name of their matter name in a product, and autocomplete will finish it.
Christopher Anderson: Okay, so I think one of the concerns these people will have about linking all these things together is, all this talking behind the scenes, is that secure? Can they rely on the security of that?
Jack Grow: Oh, absolutely. And not only is it secure, but it’s in the total control of the end user. So if a law firm connects one product to another, they always have the ability to go in and disconnect it at any point in time. All of the communications behind the scenes use authentication tokens and encrypted communications and you have an incredibly secure way of sharing information. And that’s one of the reasons that it’s taken so long for these APIs to come to this point in their evolution is that now all of the technology has kind of caught up with that and it can now be done in a very safe way.
Christopher Anderson: And we’re recording actually this at ABA Techshow and I can tell you that one of the big topics in a lot of the conversations that are going on are about making sure that data is encrypted in transit and that rest. Because everything about cloud representation obviously can be confidential, can be privilege. And you’re saying that this takes care of meeting the lawyer’s obligations to have that encrypted.
Jack Grow: Absolutely, absolutely.
Christopher Anderson: Carol Lynn, looking at how rule-based docketing, we talked about how it mitigates risk for law firms, and I think we made it really clear that it does and the risk is very real. I mean, just sitting in my chair, it just seems impossible that you would try to do this without some sort of automatization; so I think that’s been really clear. But I think what would be interesting to discuss is how it might also not only just mitigate risk but also help law firms reduce their overhead. What I think would be interesting to discuss is how it might also – not only just mitigate risk – but also help law firms reduce their overhead. What can rule-based docketing do, for instance, to reduce personnel overhead?
Carol Lynn Grow: Well, that’s a good question. It’s interesting because when we first came out with the rules-based calendaring, back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s timeframe, people felt as though they were going to lose their job and it concerned them because they were spending so much time calculating deadlines by hand, looking them up and then hand-entering them. And if we did it all automatically in a second, it did concern them. And so the reality is that more recently, everybody’s trying to get efficient. And if a paralegal has an opportunity to get something done that takes them one minute versus three hours, they want to be efficient because they want their attorneys to recognize them for that. So this does replace the need to pay somebody hours to get something done when they can get it done in a minute. It also can potentially save them money on their malpractice insurance. So when we talk to malpractice providers, they typically talk about looking for anywhere between 2 to 3 redundant systems when an attorney is representing what kind of redundancies they have. And basically when you look at a system that provides the deadlines in the form of email reminders, they push into a user’s calendar, they create centralized repository for the firm to have an overview of the deadlines, offsite backup when it’s coming through our hosted environment. The list goes on and on, but we provide far beyond what’s required to get the maximum discount for malpractice.
Christopher Anderson: And in your experience do you know what percentages insurance companies will give for having effective rule-based docketing software?
Carol Lynn Grow: I have heard a variety of ranges, but I have heard anywhere between 5 and 8 percent. It really depends on the type of law firm. So a personal injury type firm or family law is going to have a different risk component to an insurance company than perhaps a complex commercial litigation, so it really depends.
Christopher Anderson: In my understanding from talking to you all earlier was that the way that attorneys pay for rule-based docketing software like yours is to pay by the case, whether it’s court rules or self-generated rules, they pay by the case. How can law firms mitigate the cost of that?
Carol Lynn Grow: Well, because we do charge a one time pe lawsuit fee, per case fee, our clients, typically, will pass that one time per case fee through to their clients. If not for all of their cases, for most of their cases. There are certain types of practices that choose to go with our monthly type pricing. So not all firms are set up to be able to pass that cost through if they’ve got, for example, one client; doesn’t work quite as well in some cases.
Christopher Anderson: But by using rule-based docketing software, it seems like they’d turn into a cost center because billing for a docking clerk is very, very difficult, not many people want to pay for that. A lot of courts won’t authorize that as a fee, they could actually turn this into – and maybe if not a profit center, at least a cost recovery center in their law firm.
Jack Grow: Absolutely. So you get that per case fee, you pass that through your client, and we talked to several clients that have actually recovered that fee as part of a bill of cost at the end of a case and you qualify for that malpractice insurance discount. So even before you start using our product, you’re making money. And then just one more point just to add a little story if you don’t mind. So early on we walked into a law firm and we did our presentation and we talked about how our product would automatically calculate the deadlines and put them into Outlook. And we had the docking clerk raise her hand at the end of the meeting and said, “Well, what happens to my job if we use this product?” and everybody kind of looked around; but it has a very happy ending. Because what they did is they took that docketing paralegal and said, “Look, instead of paying you to do unbillable work, we’re now going to put you on cases and the work you’re now doing is now billable.” So that person actually ended up becoming more valuable to the firm than they had been before their docketing job had been replaced.
Christopher Anderson: Yeah, that’s wonderful. I think that a lot of law firms will see opportunities to repurpose people into helping them become profitable. What do you see happening in this space in the future? What is the future in rule-based docketing?
Jack Grow: I believe that the future of this space is that using this ability of the servers to talk to each other behind the scenes, you’re going to get an exponential increase in where these types of products can show up. And what you’re going to have is a situation where people can manage their deadlines in a way they feel comfortable with that gives them peace of mind, and that really makes them feel that they can spend their time on the types of things that are going to win or lose a case as opposed to managing the procedure. And they’re going to be doing it in a way that they’re very comfortable with and it’s easy to use.
Christopher Anderson: Fantastic. This wraps up this edition of the Un-Billable Hour, the law practice advisory podcast. Our guests today have been Carol Lynn and Jack Grow of Law Toolbox in Denver, Colorado. You can learn more about them at their website, which is www.LawToolbox.com, or you can see them on LinkedIn, @LawToolbox and Facebook; you can look them up also as Law Toolbox. Their Twitter handle is, remarkably, @LawToolbox, and so you can reach them at all of those locations. Are there any other ways people can follow up with you if they want to?
Jack Grow: Come to our website, give us a call, we’re glad to answer any questions and help people with whatever we can.
Christopher Anderson: Fantastic.
Carol Lynn Grow: And they can reach us at (888) 958-6857
Christopher Anderson: Fantastic. This is Christopher Anderson and I look forward to seeing you next month with another awesome guest. Remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at LegalTalkNetwork.com or on iTunes. Thanks for joining us and we’ll speak to you again soon.
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