Need a timely topic for your next staff meeting?
Following are 10 discussion points on calendar and docket control:
* Appoint a docket czar. Identify one staff member as the supervisor of the office docket system. Name a backup as well.
* Statutes of limitation. A new client cannot be accepted and a new file cannot be opened until a statute of limitations date has been ascertained and entered into the system. The new matter/client intake sheet should contain a line for the statute of limitations date, with a signature line next to it. Each date entered on the sheet should be verified by the responsible attorney. Requiring the person to initial the sheet adds accountability. Copies of the sheet should then be given to the person responsible for maintaining the central calendar and to the responsible attorney as well. The system should provide tickler reminders at least 30, 60, 90 and 180 days before the statute runs.
* Statute of limitations follow up. One attorney in the firm should be assigned the task of following up on all statute of limitations dates. The follow-up attorney should receive a print-out each week of upcoming deadlines (or in the case of a manual system, a copy of the diary card or file card). This attorney should require proof that the lawsuit has been filed, such as a copy of the filed complaint. As pointless and self-defeating as it might sound, lawyers sometimes cover up blown statutes in hopes of later correcting the problem, or in the vainer hope that everything will just blow away. Having someone double-check eliminates this risk.
* Procedure for incoming mail. Each piece of mail received in the office should be date-stamped and reviewed for dates that need to be entered in the office calendar system. Examples might include deposition dates, discovery deadlines, tax payment dates, etc. The clerk who reviews the mail should highlight and initial each date on the original piece of correspondence. Perhaps a second initial from the docket coordinator might indicate that the date has been calendared. After the dates are recorded in the office system, the mail may then be distributed to the responsible attorney or staff member, who should calendar the dates in their individual calendars. This adds redundancy and another layer of protection.
* Automatic review dates. After attorneys have completed a specific event in a particular file or matter, it might be important to enter a follow-up date on the calendar. For example, this will provide a prompt to check and see if a final fee payment has been received, or if a filed, signed copy of an order or other closing document has come in. This ensures that no file or matter will go unattended for a long period of time.
* Redundancy. Each critical date should be entered in at least two diaries maintained by separate individuals. In the case of a sole practitioner, the dates can be maintained by the attorney and secretary. In the case of a larger firm, the dates can be maintained in a central computer system and in the individual diary of each attorney who is responsible for a particular matter. The lawyer should meet with the secretary daily to confirm new calendar items and discuss cases tickled for activity. This is a good time to enter new dates from incoming mail.
* Calendar drawer. A small office can set up an effective manual docket control system in a file drawer. Simply use numbered tabbed dividers to create a perpetual calendar system. Place cards indicating deadlines and activity dates behind the appropriate divider.
* Daily and weekly deadline lists. Each morning the docket coordinator will distribute the docket entry forms that are calendared for that day. The coordinator can prepare and distribute weekly calendar listings of all deadlines due within the week.
* Advance warnings. The docket control coordinator is responsible for setting up the advance warning dates and putting the docket entry forms into the system. Two advance warnings are recommended for deadlines of 30 days or sooner (for example: two weeks/one week or two weeks/two days, etc.). This may vary if your deadlines are more than 30 days distant.
* Everyone has input. The system will succeed only if everyone participates and makes it work.