Review: Calendaring for smaller firms

In November 2004, I wrote about the launch by CompuLaw of Deadlines On Demand, a service designed to help sole practitioners and small firms calendar court deadlines using CompuLaw’s rules-based service on a pay-per-use basis. With the service now over a year old, I recently checked back for an update.

DOD’s purpose is simple but essential: to calculate important court deadlines. It allows a lawyer to avoid the time-consuming and sometimes confusing process of researching rules, looking up holidays and counting calendar days to come up with a schedule. DOD does it all for you Â? researching the jurisdiction’s rules, adjusting for holidays and scheduling all deadlines. It uses the same calendaring rules as its parent, CompuLaw, which the company says is used by more than half of the 50 largest U.S. firms and which was winner of the 2005 Law Technology News award for best docketing and calendar software.

For smaller-firm lawyers, DOD’s advantage over CompuLaw is its pay-as-you-go pricing. Price of a search ranges from $5 to $99, depending on the complexity and number of deadlines. Joseph C. Scott, DOD’s vice president and general manager, told me that the average cost of a search in 2005 was $27.50. You are not charged until after you enter your search parameters and DOD calculates the price, so you can always decide not to hit the submit button. (During my recent visits, DOD was offering a 50 percent discount, but I do not know for how long it will be in effect.)

Searching is simple. Start by selecting the jurisdiction of your case from a map of the United States. DOD covers all federal courts and all 50 states, but it does not necessarily have all courts or local rules within a state. You can browse the list of available rules before you start your search. Next, select the court and area of practice (state court civil litigation, for example) and then the event (filing of complaint, for example). If you wish, you may enter your own matter reference number and other case information. At this point, DOD gives you a summary of the information you have provided and the cost. If you approve, click submit. DOD generates the list of deadlines and sends it to you by e-mail in an iCalendar format that you can import into Microsoft Outlook. You can also send the deadlines to a delimited file to import into other programs or hand-held devices.

A reassuring feature is DOD’s change notification service. If a jurisdiction changes a rule that could affect a user’s previous search, DOD sends the user notice of the change by e-mail along with a link to rerun the search. Live telephone support is available weekdays and users can also submit support questions by e-mail.

General manager Scott said that DOD grew to more than 8,000 regular users in its first year, well beyond the company’s goal of 1,500. Lawyers particularly like it, he said, for researching deadlines in courts where they do not customarily practice.

DOD’s one drawback for some lawyers will be its coverage. While some states, such as California, have virtually blanket coverage, others do not. It appears that DOD includes at least the appellate rules and principal civil trial court rules for every state, as well as federal district rules. From there, coverage varies. The company is constantly working to add new and update existing jurisdictions, Scott said.

DOD is a useful and easy-to-use calendaring tool for solo and small-firm lawyers. Most attractive is its pay-per-search pricing. A search takes only minutes, and at an average cost of $27.50 per search, it seems certain to save you time and your client money.