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Time Management/Missed Limitations

No matter how carefully you plan it, your day will still only have 24 hours in it.  Given the ever increasing demands on our time, taking steps to effectively manage our time and use it wisely are very important. 

Work smarter, not harder
Missed limitation periods
Planning ahead
The Pomodoro Technique to Time Management
The Golden Rule of Time Management
Become a successful delegatee
Supervision of work coming from your office

Controlling time with technology

Benjamin Franklin once said that time is money, and nothing could be truer when it comes to the practice of law. Here are some technology tips and apps to help you keep your time on track:

  • Asana is an iPhone app that allows for a web-based task management system that allows you to track and share your goals, tasks and team tasks;
  • Streaks is an iPhone app that allows you to create and track daily accomplishments. This is a great app for establishing a good routine such as time tracking for billing purposes;
  • Queue up reading lists with Instapaper, an iPhone app that allows you to “time shift” your reading so you can dedicate certain hours to it;
  • Turn off social media notifications while in the office;
  • Dedicate personal time and put your smartphone away to focus on other important aspects of your life such as family and friends;

With all the different apps and options available, technology can sometimes become overwhelming but it’s about determining what you need, making a plan, and using the technology that suits your own working style.

Helpful Tips

  • Decide early what actions have to be taken
  • Break the project into steps
  • Set a timeline for each step
  • Don't underestimate the time you will need to complete a task
  • Plan your time taking into account not only the matter, but the client and opposite counsel
  • Look at your calendar before you make a time related promise to a client or opposite counsel
  • List and prioritize daily and weekly assignments
  • Create a computerized to-do list. Keep personal and business calendar together
  • Allow for some flexibility in your schedule to allow for “emergencies”
  • Work during that part of the day that you work best and have the most energy
  • Block time-determine best thinking time, best phone calling time, best mail time, best legal projects time
  • Meet with your assistant daily to ensure good communication between each other and to allow each of you to review upcoming deadlines and work schedules.  Also review the status of current cases. This enables your assistant to talk intelligently to clients when they call and cuts down on unnecessary interruptions in your workday
  • Do your most dreaded task first
  • Realize unpleasant tasks don't get easier over time and in fact, they get harder when they are put off. Just start anywhere. The worry over not working on a project seems to take more energy than doing it. Just start.
  • Focus
  • Take breaks for physical activity
  • Learn to say no
  • Capture your time for work that you do
  • Impose a quitting time and stick to it

Missed limitation periods

In many jurisdictions, one of the most common grounds for claims against the professional liability insurance of lawyers is the missed limitation period. Nova Scotia currently enjoys a generous Limitations of Actions Act, which reduces these types of claims and allows many such claims to be repaired. However, even in Nova Scotia these types of claims occur, and with amendments to the Act currently under consideration, this is an area with growth potential.

Our files show that the reasons for missing the deadline include:

  • inadequate office systems;
  • human error: the wrong date is entered into the system;
  • relying on a client’s memory and not independently confirming significant dates;
  • application of legislation other than the Limitations of Actions Act; and
  • the appropriate jurisdiction for the action is outside of Nova Scotia and the limitation period is different.

How can you avoid these types of claims?

Have a calendaring system that works for you, and use it. Whether you use an email program like Outlook Express or a cloud-based email program such as Google’s gmail, these programs come with a built-in calendar system. Many practitioners continue to rely on paper diaries and calendars but staff access is limited. Electronic calendar programs have a “share” option that allows staff to record and confirm significant dates as well. Set a date in advance of the deadline to allow yourself enough time to complete the work required and establish a reminder or “bring forward” system so your staff can verify the dates and pull the file in advance of the deadline. Allowing staff access also ensures you have a second (or more!) pair of eyes reviewing the upcoming dates so nothing is overlooked or the wrong date entered.

Relying solely on your client’s memory for the date of loss without independently verifying it may result in a missed deadline. Review the Crown’s file in a criminal matter or the police record in a motor vehicle accident, i.e.: confirm the significant dates in any action. If there is a discrepancy between what your clients tells you and the independent record, confirm the information with your client to ensure they are not confusing it with another matter and document the conversation.

Often claims arise when the application of other pieces of legislation changes the limitation period outlined in the Limitations of Actions Act, and a deadline is missed. The Halifax Regional Municipality Charter, S.N.S. 2008, c. 39, the Insurance Act R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 231, and the Fatal Injuries Act R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 163, are several examples where deadlines as short as one year can apply.

Be mindful of international conventions, such as the Montreal Convention (formally known as the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage my Air), which may apply if your client has suffered damages and is seeking compensation from an airline carrier. An updated table of limitation periods can be found on the LIANS website:

Lastly, if your client was injured outside the province of Nova Scotia, confirm that location’s limitation period to file an action. For example, in Ontario, a claim in negligence must commence within two years under the Ontario Limitations Act, as opposed to six years as is the case in Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotia Government is considering amendments to the Limitations of Actions Act, with the most notable amendments being the amount of time allowed to bring a claim to court – establishing a two-year limitation period from when a claim is discovered, and an ultimate 15-year limitation period. Some consideration is also being given to the removal of section 3, which is often used to extend the limitation period.

With all that in mind, remember these tips: develop and implement office procedures to avoid missing significant dates. Review your current files and document deadlines. If deadlines are looming, file the action on behalf of your client before you run out of time. If you have missed a deadline, file a claim with us immediately so we may be able to assist you with any steps necessary to repair the matter.