Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

One Simple Habit Can Reduce Blown Deadlines

checklistYou probably know that a missed deadline can lead to a malpractice claim – but did you also know that one simple habit will help minimize the risk?

It’s called “discover a deadline, tickle a deadline,” and one risk manager says it can make your life much easier.

“Develop this simple habit and take a big step to avoiding a big source of malpractice claims,” writes attorney Ian Huff at Avoid a Claim.

Huff draws inspiration from the best-seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, which breaks a habit into four key elements:

  • A cue that triggers a response
  • A routine that is the same response every time
  • A reward that comes after the routine
  • A belief that the habit will help you achieve your goal

Here’s how Huff’s magic pill works: when you discover a deadline (cue), you tickle it (routine) by entering the date on your calendar, perhaps with advance reminders. The reward is knowing you’ve got the deadline covered and sleeping easily at night. The belief is that by doing so you’ve taken a big step to protect yourself from malpractice misery.

“You better believe it’s worthwhile ,” Huff writes. “[F]or plaintiff litigators, missing deadlines is the top source of malpractice claims.”

The Power of Habit

We all have good, healthy habits and bad, self-defeating habits, say Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. Over time, they become automatic, conditioned responses to external cues. The trick is being aware of these triggers and developing new ways of responding to them.

A change of habits can help prevent calendar snafus in the law office. Some cases have a single deadline. You do the work on time, collect your fee and close the file. Maybe you accomplish all three steps in one day. Nice and easy.

But most cases have multiple deadlines. Some are filing dates or statutes of limitations. Some are notice periods. Others are discretionary deadlines imposed by you, the client or someone else.

To further complicate things, not all deadlines are obvious at the outset of a case. New ones appear – often at the worst possible moment – as the matter progresses.

What’s a busy practitioner to do?

Easy, says Huff: Discover a deadline, tickle a deadline.

“If you discover or think of a deadline while you’re in a coffee shop, take out your phone and email instructions to your assistant to tickle it. If you’re in an interview or a discovery and find out about a deadline, email instructions to your assistant tickle it. And if you don’t have an assistant, then email yourself so you can tickle it when you get back into the office.”

 Like any habit, Huff says, this one is built over time with practice.

Take this scenario: You walk into an intake meeting and bring a notepad or laptop to take notes. In the midst of the meeting, a deadline is discovered. You understand the deadline is critical and you then write it down on the notepad or in a document on your laptop. When the meeting is over, you walk back to your office. As you sit down, your intention is to tickle the deadline – that is, to mark the date down in your calendar and set staggered reminders leading up to it. However, you are interrupted by a phone call. You pick it up, only to discover it’s an urgent matter. When you hang up you proceed to work on the urgent matter. By the time you’re done working on the urgent matter, you’ve forgotten to tickle the deadline.”

What habits make your practice safer and more profitable? Which ones need to be changed?



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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