Lawyers Journal

Online tools allow easy scheduling without making a single call

Every attorney knows the scenario. You have to schedule a deposition with five parties and attorneys coming in from out of town. Or, you have to schedule a corporate meeting with key employees, officers and the board of directors. All of the attendees have to be contacted and they all have to attend.

For years, this required the attorney, or paid staff, to make an endless series of telephone calls with proposed dates and times, listening to messages, leaving new messages, trying to keep track of who has responded and who has not, receiving notice from the lone holdout that none of the dates are good, and then having to start a new series of telephone calls. All of a sudden, you have a meeting scheduled two months out with deadlines looming.

Some of us started using e-mail and Microsoft Outlook's scheduling tool. Here we found that Microsoft Outlook's scheduling tool was too limited in its ability to propose a wide enough range of dates and times, and we also found that our in-boxes were inundated with "reply all" responses when all we really wanted to know was if the meeting was going forward. This method has become the most common scheduling tool, but still is not ideal.

A growing list of free tools is available on the Internet that allows your meetings to be scheduled without further wasting everyone's time. My favorite tool for scheduling meetings is TimeBridge, www.timebridge.com. This tool allows me to propose five specific dates and times for a meeting, which I can then share with a specified group of people. TimeBridge sends an e-mail to the selected recipients notifying them of the proposed dates and times. The e-mail includes a link to TimeBridge. The recipients, who need not register, are taken to the proposed dates and times, and they can confirm which date works, which is the best date, and which dates simply do not work. If none of the dates work, you can then make some new suggested dates and times.

To make scheduling easier, TimeBridge will synchronize with Microsoft Outlook contacts and calendar so you will not have to jump back and forth between Outlook and TimeBridge to get your e-mail list and see the dates and times that you are available. TimeBridge will suggest that you allow it to make your entire calendar available to others. Don't do that. In fact, I would simply turn off that function to prevent inadvertent disclosure of information to others.

If you are working with a group of people that you will need to meet with numerous times, then you can also set up a group to allow you to quickly contact them. TimeBridge is not only a great way for scheduling meetings, but it also allows you to schedule a virtual meeting through its Web conferences (30-day free trial) and it provides a free telephone conference number for the participants (a large number of companies provide free telephone conferencing services). This will allow greater participation without tying up multiple telephone lines on your system and without paying excessive AT&T conference call fees.

Another excellent free tool for scheduling meetings is Doodle, at www.doodle.com, which also provides a paid premium branded version. Doodle will synchronize with a number of different calendars, including Microsoft Outlook, iCal and Google. It also allows scheduling on the go by providing an iGoogle widget, a Facebook application and a beta Mobile Doodle application.

Once you have chosen a title for your e-mail, you select the dates you wish to propose and as many time slots on that date as you wish. Once you are done selecting times and dates, then you send an e-mail to participants to poll their availability. I use Doodle when I want to poll a larger number of people on their availability and may only need a majority of participants to attend. Although Doodle allows a larger number of proposed dates, its interface is not as intuitive or simple to use as TimeBridge. There are a number of other free Web-based alternatives available which I have not tested.

These include www.whenisgood.net, www.tungle.com (an Outlook plug-in), www.setameeting.com, www.meetingwizard.com and www.meetomatic.com. The interface of each product differs and you may find some products more intuitive to use than others. However, given the price, you should feel free to try these products until you find the right product for you. As with all Web-based applications that you use, you will want to review the terms of use and privacy policies of the vendor, especially if you allow it to access your contact list and calendar.

 

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