Good Timing

By: Paul D. Supnik


Note: An edited version of this article was published in the May 1989 issue of Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine, a publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.

The article reviews four Calendar programs, Micro Craft Docket, DSL Legalex 2.0, CompuLaw Docket Calendar/Critical Dates and MQS Docket Manager.

"Good Timing"

Calendar Programs Simplify Keeping Track of Critical Dates

Why use a calendar program? After all, paper based tickler systems are available readily and inexpensively from legal supply houses. Here are a few reasons. Entering a number of events by computer tends to be simpler than entry on a paper based system and if accurate information goes in, accurate information is likely to come out. More importantly, hard copy updates of the calendar on a regular or intermittent basis is simple, with information displayed in various useful ways.

More computer literate lawyers may respond that they have a database program that they use to maintain their calendar. However, if one were to use a database program, the input screens have to be designed, the reports have to be designed and various error checking features and other features for which a computer should be doing the work, may not be used.

The cost of computer calendar programs for lawyers typically ranges from around $150 to $2,000(1).

The importance of calendar programs become apparent upon viewing the ways in which the companies who distribute the programs disclaim liability in connection.(2) Calendars are vital to the law practice. That is not to say that manual paper based calendar systems are better or worse. However, if print outs of calendars are regularly made and audit trails are kept, a computer system is likely to be more accurate, detailed and useful in the long run. Calendar programs permit you to display in a convenient form, listings by date, case, client, attorney or other selective criteria all critical events, appointments and reminders.

Some of the features to keep in mind while selecting a calendar program for your practice includes the simplicity, versatility, reliability, ease of training, training costs, available support and program cost. Features in some calendaring programs make the calendaring of multiple events simple. Some programs require that the entry screen display a considerable amount of information and that significant areas of information must be completed in at least a rudimentary form or the calendar entry cannot be completed. Some programs require a client or matter code to be entered before any calendar entry may be made. This can slow the data entry process by requiring that the operator exit and enter a portion of the program where new clients and matters are added before calendaring the event. The tradeoff is that this assures that calendar entries not tied to a client will not get lost and permits reports to be generated for specific clients.(3) Most calendar programs come with utility programs for helping to repair and salvage damaged data files. However, that is not a substitute for backup procedures which should be used on a regular basis.

CompuLaw Docket Calendar/Critical Dates ($795; Jr. version, $495 from CompuLaw of Culver City, California(4)).

CompuLaw Docket Calendar/Critical Dates is a well developed program which has been around for a number of years. "Categories" may be preset for different types of events. Examples of types of categories might be, "Respond to Interrogatories", "Hearing", "Send follow up letter to client". The categories are abbreviated with a code of one to three characters. In the calendar entry screen, when the abbreviated code is typed, the category appears on the screen and in the printout for the entry. If a category is not known, pressing the escape key will result in a menu of choices showing the existing categories which may be selected by pressing the enter key.

"Locations" is another preset. Examples of locations are "Los Angeles Superior Court", "Federal Court", "Client's office". Like categories, these are abbreviated with two digit codes and appear in the calendar entry screen when the codes are typed and a selection menu is provided by pressing the escape key if the user forgets the codes.

In the world of most generic business software, copy protection is something that was done in the dark ages to protect software vendors and publishers from unscrupulous users. Even the last holdover for copy protection in the business world, such as LOTUS 1-2-3 has abandoned it. Unfortunately, it still exists on this CompuLaw program. What this means in CompuLaw is that in order to use the program, a "key disk" must be placed in the "A" drive of the computer before it can be accessed. The problem of course is that if both of the key disks are lost and you need to retrieve an entry which has not been transformed into hard copy, you will have to wait until you find it or get another copy. The same problem will exist if the key disks have been damaged. Of course, in any computer based system, something could always go wrong with the information on the hard disk of the computer. This is an inconvenience, and it would be expected that as an important program, CompuLaw will soon drop its protection scheme. A telephone call to the company revealed that Compulaw will unlock the program on request, and may very well completely drop their copy protection scheme in the future. You may wish to contact the company in this regard before purchasing the program.

One problem with the Docket Calendar/Critical Dates program is that changes to the "categories" and "location" menus cannot be made "on the fly". That means that if a calendar entry is being made and no category or location fits within the entry being created, it is not possible to immediately add that entry to the category or location lists. What must be done is that a fictitious entry or "other" entry must be made, the calendar entry completed, exit the calendar entry screen which takes a number of steps and then enter the customization menu and category and location entries. This problem is not particularly severe in CompuLaw Docket, as the only required entries are that of the attorney, category, location and scheduled date.

Reminder entries can be set automatically based on the category selected. Rather than taking the time to think about when reminders should be created, it allows preset reminder time intervals to be entered. For example, if a deposition is to be taken, a deposition may be entered, and first and final reminders may also be automatically entered to be set at for example one week and two days prior to the deposition. The reminders may be entered manually, or by event category.

Macros in CompuLaw Docket Calendar/Critical Dates are a shorthand way in which a number of calendar entries can be made at the same time. For example, assume a trial date is to be calendared. Prior to a trial, jury fees must be posted, discovery cutoffs are set, jury instructions must be prepared and other events occur. A macro for multiple events can be set so that events keyed to the trial date can be generated at the same time. A macro will automatically calendar each of these subsidiary events within a set number of days from the base event. The macro can be written to calendar first and final reminders for each of the subsidiary events as well.

The program checks to determine whether the date of the entry, or the reminders are on non working days, such as Saturday or Sunday. If so, the operator is prompted and asked if the date, for example, 10 days prior to the event date should be entered as a reminder. If not, the user is given the opportunity to change the date. Holidays, however, are handled manually.

The entry screen for making calendar entries begins with an ordinary monthly calendar with squares representing each day of the month. From the entry screen the date, timekeeper or events scheduled during that month can be chosen. You are given the opportunity to print out an audit trail at the time calendar entries are being made. This is a useful feature should questions later arise as to what happened to certain calendar entries which were believed to have been entered.

The entry screen permits adding a three line memorandum which may be printed out in reports as desired. Free time available for a particular lawyer or several lawyers to determine whether a meeting among all can be scheduled at the same time. That presumes that all calendar entries for time are entered at the same time. A passkey diskette is provided for several levels of security if desired.

Reports are printed out selecting a time interval, priority types, categories, timekeepers, clients, docket numbers, categories and locations. Reports can be printed out with or without reminders, or only with reminders. The report typically will distinctively show the day and date followed by the reminders and critical dates for the day. The term critical dates are meant to mean the day of the events. Typically only three events fit on a page, though in an abbreviated format, several additional events may appear.

In another format, a month's calendar appears, each day appearing in a box as in a normal monthly calendar. Up to four events can appear in a box in a highly abbreviated form to alert one to the type of events occurring during the month. Daily worksheets may also be printed out showing events during a single day, and with a convenient, small three month calendar appearing above the daily time entries. Similarly a monthly worksheet with the same three month calendar may be printed out.

Differences between the junior version and the regular version include the maximum number of categories, locations, macros and timekeepers available. The junior version is limited to 40 categories, locations and macros and up to 5 timekeepers.

My general recommendation for this program is fairly high. The addition of online context sensitive help screens, the complete elimination of passkey copy protection and the ability to create new client matters during the process of making calendar entries would turn this useful program into a truly excellent one.

Micro Craft Docket ($295 from MicroCraft of Huntsville, Alabama)

This is a simple more economically priced program which lacks many of the features of some of the other more sophisticated calendar programs. While the program is simple to use, the benefits of using a specially designed calendar program are minimized, and it becomes more questionable as to whether it wouldn't be truly better to simply use a good database program and custom design calendar screens and reports. Microcraft Docket lacks professionally designed screens and appears out of date. Newer programs, both legal calendar specific and generic database programs, have the ability to create selection menus from which particular calendar entries can be created. That is not available here. Unlike even CompuLaw's calendar program, Microcraft Docket does not have menus for selection of clients, locations, and other items, let alone macros for calendaring multiple events dependent upon other events. On the other hand, this approach permits a free form entry of calendar items without being tied to fixed client names or codes. Despite its simplicity, it does appear to do the basic task it tries to achieve, and based on the tradeoff of its lower price, it might be suitable for the smaller office with more limited calendaring needs.

Microcraft Docket's initial screen shows a choice of entry of items, printing calendars, specifying accounts for a new client as well as certain other items. While there is a link available between client names and accounts, one of the two must be remembered in order to key in an entry item. However, the accounting link simply allows you to add account numbers or docket numbers after an entry has already been created which lacks an account number.

Three types of entries are permitted, appointments, critical dates or deadlines, and self-imposed deadlines. The difference is that critical deadlines are specially marked on reports. If an account is already entered in docket, then the client name appears.

Password protection is provided separately for every attorney using the system. This is provided so that entry and changes can only be made by the attorney entering the system. The program is not copy protected.

A key feature of the program and most heavily advertised is a monthly calendar which displays in small squares within each day for which entries have been made, up to three types of entries for each date during the month. The location of the small square in the date square will determine whether the event is an appointment, a critical date or a self imposed date. On a color monitor, the type of dates will show up as green for appointments, self imposed deadlines as yellow and critical deadlines in red.

Reports for past due events may be printed, as well as future due events. The form of the reports printed out are in two line entries on normal 8 1/2" by 11" paper. The first line indicates the item number, date, client and service to be done. The second line includes the time of the event, the account number, and any special information. Items which have been completed may be checked off. Checked off items can be deleted from the database.

DSL Legalex Calendar 2.0 (DSL, Inc., San Francisco, California, $695; multiple user or network versions are $1795.(5))

Legalex Calendar 2.0 is one of the more impressive programs. Its key feature is that it has preprogrammed various civil filing rules and the Code of Civil Procedure dates which it calls "timelines". As a result, it is possible to automatically program a series of events based on a "trigger" code entry in the calendar program. Timelines can also be created by the program user.

DSL Legalex Calendar requires use of a password. It has an opening menu with four selections, one for entry, one for reports, one for utilities and one for exiting to DOS. Pull down menus are provided for the first three opening menu selections. No on line help is provided except for one screen which shows the use of most but not all of the function keys. The program is not copy protected, but special codes are required for unlocking their demonstration program, and is provided by D.S.L.

On the down side, the Legalex program might at least appear too sophisticated for the small firm. In a sense that is correct as it may take a bit more time to get used to. It does not permit entry of data entry codes "on the fly", and thus might be at times disconcerting to the operator who will use the program. It does provide an audit trail. It has good printer support for Hewlett Packard laser printers.

On the positive side, the date generating functions are very good. Multiple or dependent dates are created by. Each timeline is a set of rules on how to calendar an event. For example, a federal court complaint must be served within 120 days of it being filed. A timeline for this rule could be created, the filing date entered, and the 120 date event would be calendared along with a reminder at 60 days. This feature becomes significant when considering the amount of calendaring required in connection with trial preparation, with the new fast track program, or with Local Rule 9 in federal court. However, the preparation and identification and setting up those rules may be a chore in itself. DSL has taken some of the work out of preparing these timelines. It includes a set of timelines for the California Code of Civil Procedure with the program, and sells additional timelines for the regular and fast track local rules, as well as the federal rules for the various districts in California. Yearly subscription cost for the first four additional timelines is $100.

In using Legalex Calendar, a series of data entry codes must first be completed, some of which are required and others not required. To be able to complete client matters codes, a "venue" must first be entered. The venue defines the appropriate set of guidelines which must be used in connection with a client matter. Thus, if the case is in Los Angles Superior Court and on the fast track program, the venue setting out the Los Angeles Superior Court enables the fast local rules to be implemented. The "venue" will become meaningless if the calendar entries are set for other type of events such as appointments or meetings. Other data entry codes such as location, matter type, department, description and category are all useful for later creating custom reports which select these various criteria.

A client/matters code arrangement must be set up before entering events to be calendared. This consists of a first portion which is a client code and a second part which is a matter code. If you do not wish to use a matter code, a zero may be typed in for each entry and otherwise ignored.

Calendar reports can be printed out by employee, by date or by client matter. The style of the reports can be readily varied. A utility program comes with Legalex which enables you to select the type of printer, and to select a variety of different report formats so that specific types of information which is desired to display in the output reports. The selection permits the basic information which has been input in virtually any combination or format desired, and the setup of the format is substantially automated. For example, with a laser printer it may be desirable to have the calendar report printed out in a landscape mode (i.e. with the page horizontal, rather than vertical). It may also be desirable to display the client name, but not the client code, and whether or not the item has been completed.

An audit trail report is available to determine who has entered what and when. Also available is a time conflict check to determine, for example, who will be available for a meeting during the week at the same time. While it sounds useful, I doubt its practicality, unless members of the firm have their time so tightly structured and controlled that it is all entered into the calendar system. A more useful feature is a "date sets" report which prints out, for a particular client, all multiple events which have been calendared by the timelines.

Docket Manager ($150, Micro Quantitative Sciences, Glendale, Arizona)

This is a new and inexpensive program. Its features include on line help and shift or "accelerator" keys to enter information regarding particular entries.

This program is a new low cost entry level program which adequately sets up an office calendar. Despite its low cost, its accelerator keys are beneficial in that various data prerequisite to calendaring events can be changed "on the fly". Moreover, it does have on line, and partly context sensitive help. It is not copy protected. It does not seem to allow for multiple event practice rules, though individual event practice rules can be set. Complex calendaring functions do not appear as readily handled as with Compulaw's Docket or with Legalex. The program is economically priced and worth trying, if there is some hesitation to try using a calendar program.

1. Those prices are occasionally discounted, though the discounts do not seem to be the same as for generic business software that can be bought on a mail order basis.

2. That is probably emphasized by the question asked in applications for E&O insurance asking if you use a computer type calendaring system.

3. However, should that be a problem, that can be overcome by assigning a fictitious client name (e.g. "Other") to the calendar item and editing the item later.

4. CompuLaw has also recently released a new program, Network Docket which reportedly is an entirely different program and sells for $1,500 in the single user version to $5,000 in a multiuser version.

5. By single user version it is meant not that it is for only one attorney, but for one workstation. Typically in a small law office, unless on a network, the calendar should only be accessible at a single work station.