Case Management: The gift that keeps on giving.
By Beryl Vaughan
In a law firm, case management is a well-developed systems design, usually carried out by paraprofessionals and junior attorneys. The most important tasks are delegating, tracking, calendaring, a hefty tickler system for follow-through and follow-up, document management of records for a bevy of experts, and a thoughtful filing system. On the face of it, systems are designed to automate. In law, however, the human factor is so essential that trained staff are paid well and always in demand. Whoever does it: systems are (1) a method to anticipate and avoid trouble, and (2) to keep things moving smoothly.
To be clear, in no way is case management the same as “management” of the expert’s professional knowledge and rendering of opinion. This article is about the administrative management of workflow to keep everyone on track as deadlines loom and events evolve.
A cast of characters:
The larger the lawsuit–in financial claim or numbers of parties–the more important to have a support team with sophisticated skills. This frees up the biggest ticket items to be billable by the attorneys. In your case, your time is your bread and butter too. Therefore, just like attorneys, the less you have to work at keeping track of all the paper and deadlines, the more time you have to bill for your expert skills. If you don’t have the staff, a good case-management protocol goes a long way to making your life easier and clients confident in your capabilities.
Here’s a checklist for case management tasks you can use.
- When records come in, are they electronic or physical? If physical,
record / pages so you can easily find them when you write your report or while you are on the stand. Lawyers love Bates Stamps–which is a stamp that applies a different number to each successive page. There’s no rhyme or reason–Bates page #35 could be part of the document at Bates #00200. Bates stamps make it easier to track if number/ index paperis missing. I don’t like it because it isn’t rational and I like to find my documents where I think they belong.
- Consider keeping a “chron” file of copies of letters you send out. Standard Operating Procedure for attorneys, a chronological file gives you a way to find things without having to remember the client or location. When you wrote someone last April about a cool piece of case law you have the April chron; sent a letter 2 months ago with some great language for boilerplate? Chron file comes to the rescue.
- Calendar everything. This requires listening. When the attorney mentions a court date, make a note in your file. If it impacts you, make a note on your calendar. And follow up with a call. Also calendar deadlines for Expert Disclosure, Discovery, depositions including those of counterpart experts for o/c, pre-trial hearings and settlement conferences, and, of course, trial. Calling an attorney after a hearing that’s impactful to the case, just to touch base about the results, shows you’re paying attention. It’s another goodwill-building moment. Not all information can, or should, be shared with you. Therefore, instead of a call, a quick email might do the trick. Email creates something discoverable so wording and collaborating about this with an attorney should be a consideration.
- Use your calendar to follow Up with attorneys about upcoming depositions for which your input could be useful. I asked an attorney once if they felt an expert should give input on questions to ask a counterpart expert. The attorney said it is one of the most valuable uses of the expert’s background–equal in some ways to testimony (if
settlementis likely). Feel free to ask me about this if you’d like to know more about how a case unfolds.
In every case, your attorney-client will be pleasantly surprised and even relieved, to know that they can count on someone in your office to keep an eye on what’s important. Attorneys are used to hand-holding experts. Further, most psychiatrists and psychologists have a singular approach to their practice: the expert, and no staff or someone who answers the phones and types reports. Attorneys grow tired of “leave a message,” telephone tag, long email threads… Who can blame them? It goes both ways. Give the same customer service experience to your attorney-client that they provide to their own clients.
This site is peppered with case management guides and ideas such as Nuts and Bolts.