Do right by your Docket
The central docketing calendar holds important dates for each lawyer. Maintain this calendar in addition to the file tickling system – together they serve to backup each other.
Traditionally, the docket is a large desktop calendar kept in a central office location and maintained by one staff member. Lawyers and staff inform the docket keeper about important dates using written calendar slips. To prevent missed deadlines, maintain both docket and file tickle dates.
True docket system. Often used by large firms, this system maintains a running list of important dates. In large offices with heavy litigation practices, specialized docket systems are maintained in addition to the central calendar. Usually, dates are entered into a word processing program and printed out daily or weekly for distribution.
Computer calendar. Small firms and sole practitioners often use computerized calendars or a combination of computerized and manual calendars. This system works well if the computers are networked – allowing up-to-date calendars to be printed at any time. Another benefit: All calendars, including personal, can be maintained in the same system. If a firm-wide calendar is needed, the individual calendars can be combined. Many programs allow for entry of predetermined reminder times to be set.
Individual calendars. Most people prefer to carry individual calendars with them when out of the office. Certainly individual calendars are helpful, even necessary, but take care to transfer all events to the main calendar system. Malpractice claims have occurred when dates recorded on personal calendars were not transferred to the central calendar where staff could double check the entry.
Using the docket system
Enter new dates on your calendar without delay.
Final deadlines. In addition to the docket, enter file deadlines on the secretary’s calendar and the attorney’s calendar.
Advance warnings. Enter all events as they arise and post sufficient reminder entries. Set reminder entries with enough sufficient notice to complete the task: a few days, a week or month before the event date.
Action timeline. Determine a reasonable timeline for completion of various tasks prior to the deadline. Enter those dates on the system.
Follow-up dates. The most overlooked aspect of the docket system is setting a reminder to follow up a calendar item. Include each important action, when it was accomplished and by whom. Without a follow-up system, the lawyer may not discover that a critical action was not taken until too late.
Accountability. Establish a policy for action if final reminders and follow-up actions are ignored or if the responsible lawyer is not available.
Color code. Indicate final reminders by using a special color ink to attract attention to the action.
Intake sheets. Use intake sheets when clients come to your office for the first appointment. On this sheet, include entries for important legal deadlines, such as statutes of limitation, file review frequency and the first tickle date. Place this information sheet in the new file folder and place the dates immediately on the calendar. Client information sheets provide a permanent record of every client interview. If no file is opened, retain and store the sheet in a miscellaneous file.
Mail handling. In the small office, the person opening the mail should enter all new dates as each piece is opened. In addition to date stamping, this person should indicate the docket date.
Calendar slips. Keep a supply of brightly colored calendar slips on hand – lawyers and staff can use these to immediately take note of new dates and give them to the person maintaining the calendar. Keep a pad on every desk and near every office telephone. Keep some in your briefcase, car and home to quickly and easily record pending deadlines as they arise. When returning to the office, give the slips to the appropriate person to enter them onto the calendar.
Access to calendar. Keep the docket calendar in a central location accessible to lawyers and staff. If the main calendar is manual, use color-coding for entries – using different colors for each lawyer or type of entry.
Daily conferences with staff. Good communication prevents calendaring errors. Lawyers should meet with their administrative assistants daily to confirm new calendar items and discuss cases tickled for action.
Remember: The best calendar system is one that you will use, that makes your life easier – not more complicated, requires only a single entry for dates and deadlines, that your staff understands, that’s repetitive and reliable, and has a backup feature.
For more information on calendar and docket control, check out our Practice Guide.
Samantha Cruff is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Lawyers Mutual. Contact Samantha for information regarding our available risk management publications at 800.662.8843 or firstname.lastname@example.org.