Often, we hear phrases like ‘nobody’s perfect’, and ‘everybody makes mistakes.’ But what if the consequences of our mistakes meant missed court dates? What if it meant that a mother would lose custody of her child, a family would lose their possessions or home, or a client would owe thousands of dollars?
Here’s a scary statistic—according to a study prepared by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Lawyer’s Professional Liability, failing to calendar properly is the fifth most common error that results in a malpractice suit, right after errors like failing to know and apply the law and failure to file documents.
Enter the paralegal profession, where perfection is expected when it comes to scheduling and calendaring for the attorneys they support.
We had the opportunity to speak with Gabrielle Crisp, who has worked as a paralegal for three years. During that time she has had plenty of experience in calendaring and keeping track of dates, as she had previously worked as a personal assistant.
Despite her experience working in a high-stress position, Gabrielle said that “it took me six months or more before I really felt like I wasn’t drowning. It took that long for me to feel like, okay, I actually have a good grasp of what I’m doing and how to do it well.”
This extreme stress is common for paralegals, who are responsible for keeping track of court dates and other important information for attorneys.
No paralegal wants to bear the responsibility of an attorney in their firm getting hit with a malpractice case, so accurate and diligent calendaring is always something that weighs heavy on the mind of paralegals.
Scheduling Errors Represent the One Unfixable Mistake
Gabrielle told us that her boss often says…
‘Just about every mistake we make is fixable except for calendars. If we miss a date, if we miss a deadline, you can’t fix that. You have to be perfect on the calendar. If anything wakes you up at night, it should be wondering if you got the calendar right.’
She went on to say, “Believe it or not, that has woken me up at night and I have wondered if I missed something on the calendar!”
In an article on calendaring management published by The Legaco Express for Paralegals, Joseph C. Scott explained that, “weaknesses in the court calendaring system represent the largest vulnerability most law firms have.”
A larger law firm may split calendaring duty among legal assistants and paralegals, but for paralegals like Gabrielle, who works in a one-man firm, the duty is solely hers—and the stress is all hers too.
She has learned to deal with the stress by “learning to be organized, setting reminders, keeping track of things. I’d say having an organized, type-A personality is helpful in the paralegal field,” Gabrielle explained.
She went on to say, “The job I had previously as a personal assistant, I was balancing a lot, and I thought that was insane. But this is more. The consequences to messing up in the paralegal field is the big deal. It’s not because there’s more to do, it’s because the consequences of not being accurate are more severe.”
The Three-Year Old Post-It Note: A Constant Reminder
There are a myriad of tools for paralegals to use to ensure there are no scheduling conflicts or missed deadlines in their calendaring duties, including virtual apps that create a master calendar for both the attorney and paralegal to view, and calendars that sync with smart phones.
Keeping up with the deadlines—not just court dates, but also dates to get information from clients and dates to draft documents—is intense.
Gabrielle deals with the stress by looking at a three-year old post it note.
“My boss wrote me a note, and I have it on my computer. He wrote it within the first few weeks after I started, and I still have it where I can see it. He said, “go slow and be accurate.”
“I didn’t know that you wore so many hats as a paralegal. I didn’t know that it wasn’t just doing research for an attorney. It’s not at all what you see on TV. I work in a really tiny, one-man band, it’s not at all a big city firm, so I wear all the different hats of mail service, letter writing, drafting pleadings, keeping up with the calendar, and ordering supplies,” Gabrielle said.
Continue to Learn
What’s Gabrielle’s best advice for the new paralegal? Continue to learn.
Continuing education classes for paralegals are offered through national organizations, local state chapters, universities, and even online.
The National Business Institute, for example, offers a short training seminar—The Paralegal’s Guide to Deadlines and Calendaring.
“Had I known about the NALS organization and taken those legal training courses in the beginning or even had a book to read prior to starting, since I was coming into it without any real experience, that would have been very helpful just to have an idea about the different aspects of law,” Gabrielle said.