What to Do? Click and See

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Technology can seem more like a buzzword than true prog­ress, and every year there are new buzzwords.

A current buzzword is task-based computing, which can be viewed as an active way of managing knowledge. When im­plemented, it is potent.

So think of your to-do list as the window into tasks in your workspace. Imagine it always being there and knowing what you need to do next in every matter. Imagine being able to click through your to-do list directly to the pertinent data, knowledge and documents.

Historically, the problem with electronic to-do lists is that they are usually out of date and are rarely looked at. Some lawyers use their e-mail as a to-do list. An electronically sophisticated lawyer is one who proclaims: “My e-mail in-box is my work queue.”

But an e-mail in-box is not a very good to-do list. Things will slip through the cracks if you rely on your in-box, or on a traditional electronic to-do list.

Do It Yourself

Our firm implements task-based computing through Lotus Notes databases. Your firm can at least partially implement the concepts we discuss with your own database programs, or by asking your practice-management software vendors to implement something similar.

The core of the solution is a New Case Reports database. It contains the basic information regarding any matter, such as client name, client telephone number and type of case. To turn this database into a to-do window, one needs the following fields in the database: 1) Client or matter name; 2) The next task(s) to be accomplished (only the most immediately critical tasks); 3) The date the files for the matter are “deaded” (meaning they are no longer active); 4) Responsible attorney(s); 5) A clickable link to the database specific to that matter.

It is also desirable (but not necessary) to have a clickable link to a billing slip, enhancing the timekeeping aspect of your task orientation. The new-case report itself has many other fields, but these are the key fields for task-based computing.

A “date deaded” field is important because a database view is automatically constructed of all matters where that field is empty. In other words, the view is of active cases. The to-do list cleans itself.

In this system, each lawyer has two active-case views. One is in alphabetical order with the client name and next task visible, one line per active case. Any active matter should have at least one critical next task. This makes it easy to find what is most important to do, or to determine where the bottleneck is in that matter.

The other view is in ascending “last modified” order. It lists the date the new-case report was last modified, client name and next task, one line per active case. That means that in a matter where it has been a while since the new-case report has been edited (for instance, nothing has been changed in the “next task to be accomplished” field), that matter will rise to the top of the list.

In this manner a to-do list builds itself. It is always there once you have a shortcut or other link on the desktop or within the database program. One easy-to-scan view self-prioritizes, suggesting which task to attack next. The other pushes you to desired data by focusing only on the matter and its next task.

We rarely use the normal interface into Lotus Notes; one link to active cases gets us everywhere. Task-based knowledge management that actively leads you to what needs to get done, and to the information to get it done, minimizes the chances of essential tasks being overlooked. Make your to-do list an active window to accomplishing what needs to be done.

David Beckman and David Hirsch practice in the law firm of Beckman & Hirsch in Burlington, Iowa. Contact Beckman by e-mail at [email protected] or Hirsch at [email protected].

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