Office Procedures Manual
The idea behind calendar (or docket) control is to create a system that is reliable and efficient. An effective system provides for the daily scheduling of all work in the office, including appointments, court appearances, litigation deadlines, filing deadlines, real estate closings, follow-up dates, self imposed deadlines and office meetings.
A good system provides peace of mind. For example, with calendar control, promises to a client to have a status report completed by a certain date will no longer turn into a last minute rush. Another benefit is improved client relations, which also reduces the risk of a malpractice claim.
The first step in setting up your calendar system is to appoint one person who will be responsible for docket control. Name a back-up. In some large offices docket control is the sole function of one employee, usually a paralegal, with another paralegal acting as the back-up. We'll call this person the Docket Coordinator.
In a smaller office the coordinator may have other responsibilities. It is important that everyone in the office be familiar with the system and use it. For example, if the receptionist schedules an appointment for an attorney who is out of the office, the receptionist must advise the docket coordinator of the scheduled client meeting.
There should be at least two or three notices for every deadline. The system would not serve its purpose if it only gave notice of a deadline on the date of the deadline. For example, if an answer is due to be filed with the court on Monday by 5:00 p.m., you need to know before 9:00 a.m. Monday.
As a general rule, your docket system should give you deadline notices two weeks in advance, one week in advance and on the day of the deadline. Successive reminders allow you to work on projects gradually rather than constantly putting out fires.
Back-up and Review
The docket coordinator should distribute docket reminders to attorneys and support staff each day. The back-up should distribute the reminders in the absence of the coordinator. There should also be a procedure for covering deadlines when the responsible attorney is out of the office. A back-up system or calendar should be maintained. If your docket system is on computer, your back-up system should be manual.
Develop a follow-up procedure to make sure that docketed matters have been fully completed. For example, you may want to check with the clerk of court to make sure that the answer you mailed for filing was in fact received and file stamped. Or the cancelled deed of trust is received from that lender on the West Coast. If loose ends remain, the matter should stay in the docket system until resolved.
Calendar all open files for review once a month. If no action is required consider sending clients a simple form letter providing a status report. No clients complain because their attorney is corresponding with them too often!
- Two file boxes, each large enough to hold 3 x 5 index cards.
- Two sets of 3 x 5 tab dividers, numbered 1-31. These are your daily tab dividers.
- One set of 3 x 5 tab dividers, labeled January through December. These are your monthly tab dividers.
- Blank set of nine 3 x 5 tab dividers. These are your annual tab dividers.
- 3 x 5 tickler cards. You can choose from a variety of pre-printed forms that are self-imaging, so no carbon paper is required. Or you can easily create your own cards on your word processing system. Or just use blank 3 x 5 index cards and fill in the necessary data on each card. Below is a sample tickler card that might work for you.
- One set of 3 x 5 tab dividers labeled A through Z. These will be used for setting up a client control index.
- Yellow and red felt pens.
- Back-up calendar (week-at-a-glance or month-at-a-glance).
Sample Tickler Card
Client Name________________Case Number____________
Advance Warning 1____________ 2 __________ 3 ___________
Description of event______________________________________
Who is responsible_______________________________________
Notes: You can use this as a tickler card or customize your own. Have the card printed by your neighborhood printer for a relatively modest cost. Ask for carbonless, self-imaging cards that are in triplicate and can tear apart. The bottom sheet might be red; the middle sheet yellow; and the top sheet white. Or you can simply make photocopies of the above card and use different colored markers to indicate the different warnings.
Putting the System to Work
Anyone can enter information into the docket system by using the tickler cards. The cards should be completed and given to the docket coordinator. Or the information can be given directly to the docket coordinator, who actually prepares the tickler and files it in the system. The original tickler should be filed under the date of the deadline. Duplicate cards should be filed at the two-week advance date and one-week advance date.
Color coding is helpful. The pre-printed systems come color-coded. A red tickler card, for example, is the one actually filed under the deadline date. A blue card is used for the two-week advance warning, and so on.
You can easily color-code your system by using different colored paper for your tickler cards, or by using different colored pens to write the information on the cards. The colors send different messages. Example: blue indicates the two-week warning, yellow is one week, red is the ultimate deadline.
Each day, the docket coordinator distributes the tickler cards that appear in the docket system for that date. The docket coordinator also enters the deadline date of each item on the backup calendar. This back-up system will be in place if a tickler card is lost or misfiled.
Each day, the docket coordinator pulls all files requiring activity that day. After the activity has been completed, the files should be immediately returned to their storage cabinets and a new tickler date should be established.
Two rules should be followed: Never accept representation in a case or open a file, particularly a plaintiff's file, without first determining when any statute of limitations will run. Never file or shelve a client file until the next activity date is tickled.
It may be helpful for the docket coordinator to also prepare a weekly calendar for each attorney and support person. The calendar shows all upcoming deadlines for the week. The weekly calendar is given to the attorney and support staff on Monday so they know what must be accomplished during the week.
Each day the docket coordinator will check with the attorney to determine whether the items due that day were completed. If for some reason the attorney is unavailable, he or she can make the appropriate notation on the weekly calendar and the docket coordinator knows where to get the information.
A Picture of the System at Work
First, let's set up our calendar system. Let's say today is January 1, 2001.
- Place the January monthly tab divider at the front of one of the file boxes.
- Place one set of daily tab dividers (numerical 1-31) behind the January tab.
- Place the February monthly tab divider behind the number 31 daily tab.
- Place the second set of daily dividers (numerical 1 -31) behind the February tab.
- Place the remaining monthly tabs (March through December) behind the tabs for February.
- Place the 9 blank tab dividers in the back of the box. Label these for the next 9 years (2001, 2002, 2003, etc.). These tabs represent future years.
- Place the alphabetical tab dividers (A-Z) in the second file box. This will be your client control index.
Now that our system is set, let's see how it works. Let's say you're using the sample tickler card shown on the previous page. Imagine that a pleading must be filed on February 5. To enter that deadline in the tickler system, you:
- Fill out the information on the front of the card, pressing firmly to imprint on all copies. Generally, tickle at least two advance warnings.
- The bottom copy (red) of the tickler card should be filed behind the February 5 tab divider. This indicates your drop-dead or ultimate deadline.
NOTE: The red card always remains filed behind the ultimate deadline. It does not move until the ultimate deadline arrives.
- The middle copy (yellow) is used for advance warnings. It should be filed behind the tab divider representing the first advance warning (January 17 as a two-week warning). When the January 17 deadline passes, this card is re-filed in the date corresponding to the second advance warning (January 24 as the one-week warning).
NOTE: The middle card (yellow) "floats" through the box. It begins with the first advance warning and proceeds toward the ultimate deadline.
- If for some reason the activity required by the advance warning cannot be completed, simply assign a new advance warning date and refile the card accordingly.
- The top card (white) is filed alphabetically in the second file box under the client's name. This is your client control file. Whenever you wish to determine upcoming dates and deadlines for any client, simply consult this file. You will see what deadlines, including advance warnings, have been tickled for every client.
Other points about the system:
- The calendar is perpetual. At the end of each day, remove the daily tab divider from the current month and place it behind the tab for the month-after-next. Similarly, when you reach the end of a month, remove the monthly tab divider and place it at the back of the monthly tabs.
- Note that you will always have 62 daily tab dividers at the front of the box for filing tickler cards. Some of the 62 tabs will be in the current month, depending on how late in the month it is. The remainder will be in the two succeeding months. These daily tabs roll over perpetually.
- Tickler cards that are to be followed up more than 62 days in the future should be placed behind the appropriate month, regardless of the actual day. When that month arrives, the daily guides will be placed behind the monthly tab and the tickler cards distributed accordingly.
- Tickler cards to be followed up in future years should be placed behind the appropriate annual tab at the back of the box. When that year arrives, monthly and daily tab dividers can be set up, and the cards distributed accordingly. This allows for long-term tickle dates.
Checklist for Docket Control Entries
- Statutes of limitations
- Court appearances
- Judgment renewals
- Pleading due dates
- Discovery deadlines, replies to interrogatories, requests for admission, depositions, discovery cut-off dates
- Due dates for appellate briefs and arguments, notices of appeal and records on appeal
- Returns on service
- Briefs and memoranda
- Settlement conferences
- Pre-trial conferences
- Mediation, arbitration and other alternatives to trial
- Client appointments
2. Real estate
- Closing dates
- Lender-imposed deadlines
- Deadlines for zoning cases, board of adjustment matters and other applications for permits or exceptions
- Recordation deadlines
- Follow-up to receive cancelled instruments and recorded documents
- Note payment due dates
- Renewals of leases and licenses
- Renewals of insurance
- Due dates in probate and estate proceedings such as inventory and appraisal dates, hearing dates and due dates for tax returns
- Appearances in bankruptcy proceedings
- Due dates in corporate and security matters
- Dates of stockholder and director meetings
- Dates for filing corporate documents
- Review dates for wills and trusts (long-term)
- Labor contract expiration dates
- EEOC deadlines
- Workers' comp deadlines
- Procedural deadlines
- Discretionary deadlines (doctor's appointments, PTA, recreational activities, luncheons, etc.)
- Professional commitments, such as dates of bar meetings
- Staff vacation dates
- Children reaching majority (depends on type of matter)
- Client or client's parents reaching majority (depends on type of matter)
- Conviction expungements
Maintaining The System
- Prepare a written office policy regarding your docket system and include it in your employee manual.
- Appoint one staff member as docket coordinator. Appoint a back-up.
- Know the law. You cannot calendar litigation deadlines if you do not know the deadlines required by statute and the Rules of Procedure.
- Enter dates and deadlines into the system in a prompt and timely manner.
- Calendar reminder dates in advance of the final deadline.
- Maintain a back-up system.
- Make sure deadline notices are distributed each day by the docket coordinator.
- Develop a follow-up procedure to make sure that docketed matters have been fully completed.
- Set up a 12-month wall calendar so you can plan long-term. Or you can use this calendar to show all upcoming court hearings, real estate closings, etc.
Any tickler system is only as effective as the compliance with the system permits it to be. If information is not put into the system, it is not only ineffective, it is dangerous.
Another application of the tickler system can be to periodically remind lawyers of possible, future legal work that clients may need once a file is closed. For example, ticklers could be prepared for reminders on:
- Corporation formation and maintenance
- Lease renewals or other contract issues
- Will updates