Tickler and Calendar Systems

There are two systems that each lawyer and law firm should have in place to ensure that deadlines are not missed and files are not neglected - the Tickler System and the Calendar System.

Systems for reminding you to work on files are called Tickler or Diary Systems. The tickler system is one of the most important systems in the law office. It assists the lawyer in anticipating future deadlines, planning work and preventing files from being neglected.

Systems for reminding you of critical deadlines and appointments are called Calendar or Docket Systems.

In a busy law practice, the tickler and calendar systems are absolutely necessary to prevent malpractice. Most professional liability insurance carriers require a description of the firm’s tickler and calendar systems on the insurance application and require that there be both a manual and computerized system.

Characteristics of a Good Tickler and Calendar System
The mere existence of a calendar or tickler system in your law firm does not ensure that deadlines won’t be missed or files neglected. These systems must not only be in place, they must be properly managed, consistently utilized and attorneys must respond appropriately to them. Precautions must also be taken to prevent error and to ensure redundancy. The foundational elements of a good calendar and tickler system include:

• Immediate and automatic entry of all dates.
• Entry of reminder dates in association with critical deadline dates.
• Entry of follow-up dates in association with deadline dates.
• Back-up or duplication of the main calendar and tickler systems. (Both an automated and manual system are recommended.)
• Central location of tickler and calendar systems for easy access for everyone in the office.
• Tickler entries for pulling the appropriate file should be made in conjunction with the entry of a calendar date for that file.
• There should be a tickler entry for every file to ensure that all files are reviewed regularly.
• Appropriate response by the attorney to the reminders and deadlines posed by the systems.

Other desired system characteristics are:

• The system be user-friendly and easy to maintain.
• Written system procedures are in place and adequate staff training on system use is done.
• Forced compliance with procedures - failure to enter dates or respond appropriately to them should result in a reprimand or some other disciplinary action.
• Tickler and calendar information should be duplicated and maintained off-site in the event of disaster.
• The tickler and calendar system are two separate systems, but should serve as back-ups to each other. Cross-checking of dates should be possible between the two systems.
• Ideally, one person should be assigned to manage the tickler system and another assigned as a back-up.

File Tickler Systems

A file tickler system is an organizational tool that when used appropriately will limit the possibility of missing deadlines and neglecting files. It can be a planning tool, an organizational tool, and can provide peace of mind to the attorney balancing a heavy caseload. It requires discipline, accuracy, consistency and the appropriate response by the attorney and his or her staff.

Use of File Tickler Systems

Discipline - Establish a Routine

Establish a daily routine by which the file tickler system is used. Pull all tickled files for the day each morning. Files should be reviewed by the attorney and his or her secretary or paralegal. Files that require no immediate attention can be retickled and refiled. However, the attorney may want to take this opportunity to call or send the client a letter updating them on the status of their case.

The mail can also be reviewed during this time. Based on file and mail review, work can be planned and assigned for the day. New dates can be tickled based on this review.

Accuracy and Consistency - Setting Tickle Dates

There are various types of tickle dates that should be entered into a file tickler system. Tickle dates fall into the following categories:

• critical or deadline dates - dates that cannot be missed, such as a time limitation or hearing date;
• task completion dates, such as completion of a pleading;
• a date that should not be missed, such as a follow-up date;
• an informational date, such as a date when certain information is expected to be received; and
• a periodic file review date.

Dates vary in significance and should be protected by the use of extra tickle or reminder dates. It is recommended that at least three (3) reminder dates be set in association with a critical date - one (1) month, two (2) weeks and one (1) week prior to the critical date or deadline.

See Suggested Dates and Deadlines list for a list of suggested dates and deadlines to be tickled.

Appropriate Response - System Compliance

Consistent compliance with procedures is necessary to avoid system failure. The attorney must make it absolutely clear that:

• All new files must be assigned a file review date (at least) which is to be entered into the tickler system immediately upon opening a file. Other known critical dates should also be entered into the system.
• No file is allowed to be pulled out of the file cabinet without following file check-out procedures.
• No file should be returned to the file cabinet until retickling of the file is performed.
• Attorneys and staff should appropriately respond to the reminders and deadlines and not procrastinate.


Case Management

Plan future work. The file tickler system can assist the attorney in managing his or her workload. At the opening of a file, tasks can be assigned and due dates set for the work to be done on the file. Blocks of time for working on cases or files can be scheduled as are critical or task completion dates. Tickling times for case work allows you to complete work in an orderly fashion. Your availability to take on a new case can be more adequately measured and realistic estimates of when work will be completed can be given to the client.

Preventing files from being neglected. Use the file tickler system to remind you to review each open file on a regular basis. It is recommended that open files be routinely reviewed every 30 to 45 days. This is another opportunity to communicate with your client as to case status. Frequent communication with your client will enhance your attorney-client relationship and serve to keep your client happy.

Stay organized. A tickler system and to do list alleviates the need to keep files on your desk. Rather than keeping files on your desk to remind you of work to be done, the tickler reminder will serve that purpose. Files can be kept in the file cabinet until the day arrives that you’ve scheduled work on that file.

Reducing the number of files and amount of paper on your desk will help in file and document location, reduce your stress and help you organize your work more effectively.


Office and Personal Management

The file tickler system can and should be used for office management as well. Important dates, routine administrative tasks to be performed on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis should be tickled as well. In small or solo practices, even personal dates and deadlines can be included in such a system. A sense of control and balance in both the attorney’s practice and life contributes to a state of well-being. The file tickler system can assist in these areas as well.

Types of Tickler Systems
Manual Tickler Systems

The following components are needed for a manual tickler system:

• Two (2) index card boxes large enough to hold 3 x 5 forms - one is the file tickler box and one is the client control box.
• Two (2) sets of 3 x 5 dividers (for 1-31 days)
• One (1) set of 3 x 5 dividers, labeled January through December.
• One (1) blank set of nine (9) 3 x 5 dividers. These are your annual tab dividers.
• Date Reminder Forms: These are 3 x 5 three-part forms that are self-imaging and color coded.
• One (1) set of 3 x 5 dividers, labeled with names of lawyers and other staff members who would be pulling files.


STEP 1: When a file is opened a New Client Information Form and/or a File Opening Checklist should be completed which identifies:

• event dates to be entered into the tickler/calendar system.
• three (3) advance warning dates for each event date.
• tasks to be completed for the file.
• completion dates for each task.
• three (3) advance warning dates for each task completion date.
• staff assignments for each task.

STEP 2: Complete the Date Reminder Form which is a three-part form. Set the deadline date, the first advance warning at one (1) month prior to the deadline, the second advance warning at two (2) weeks prior to the deadline and the 3rd advance warning at one week prior to the deadline. (Note: Event and warning dates are also entered on a firm-wide calendar. See the section entitled Calendar Systems.)

• The bottom copy (red) of the three-part form is filed behind the deadline date for the event date or task completion deadline. (Note: The red card always remains filed behind the deadline date. It does not move unless the deadline is changed or has arrived.)
• The middle copy of the date reminder form (yellow) is filed behind the first advance warning date. (Note: the middle card (yellow) "floats" through the box, beginning at the first advance warning and proceeding toward the ultimate deadline. Also note: If the ultimate deadline changes, all copies of the form must reflect that change and be re-filed accordingly.)
• The top copy of the form (white) is filed alphabetically in the client control file. This file is consulted when you want to see all of the upcoming deadline and warning dates associated with a client file. It is also a "back-up" system in the event the yellow copy is lost or the file tickler box is destroyed.

STEP 3: At the beginning of each day, the file tickler box is checked to see whether any tickler forms are behind the divider for that day. All files corresponding to the forms behind the divider for that day are pulled and distributed to the appropriate lawyer.

• The yellow tickler form for each file pulled is filed alphabetically in the front of the file tickler box, behind the tab of the attorney who has checked out the file.
• In the event the task to be completed by the day’s date cannot be completed, the attorney should note a new tickler date on the file jacket or on the file opening checklist inside the file. The secretary enters the new date on the yellow form for that file and re-files it behind the appropriate date divider in the file tickler box. (Note: The new tickle dates and the original advance warning dates may overlap. The yellow form should move as the attorney prescribes as the file is worked. Note also: it is recommended that the file opening checklist form be maintained and updated with the status of tasks associated with the file. In the event the lawyer is not available, another lawyer in the office can pick up the file and move forward with it. (See attached sample File Opening Checklist Form.)
• The white form is also updated with the new tickler date and returned to the client control file. The file is then re-filed in the file cabinet.

STEP 4: The front of the file tickler box should be checked at the end of each day to determine the status of the files that have not been returned. New tickler dates or other appropriate action or notations should be made to ensure that the file does not get buried on the attorney’s desk.

STEP 5: The client control box should be taken off site each night to prevent loss of tickler/calendar information in the event of a disaster.

NOTE: For longer term reminder dates, such as statutes of limitation and judgment renewals, forms are placed behind the year dividers. At the beginning of each year, that year’s reminder dates are reviewed and placed behind the month and day dividers.


The index card tickling system works well if a new tickler date for each file is assigned and the tickler file card is placed behind a future date each time a file is returned to the cabinet. Filing, under this system, involves filing the files and filing the cards. The system quickly breaks down if a file is returned to the cabinet without re-filing the cards under a future date, or if a file is pulled from the cabinet without pulling the card and placing it behind the name of the person with the file. Most firms who have not automated these procedures do not have a manual "back-up" system for their manual tickler/calendar system. Should disaster strike the office, all of this information could be lost and client interests could be harmed.

Computerized Tickler Systems - The "To-Do List"

It is clear that the correct use of a manual tickler system can be time-consuming and even cumbersome - especially when you duplicate the manual system in the event of disaster. However, automation of a system that has not first been successfully implemented manually may fail. Regardless of whether the system is manual or automated, the same elements and characteristics required in a manual system must also be in place in the automated system. There must be immediate entry of dates, duplication of data, consistency and accuracy in use as well as appropriate responses made to the system warnings and reminders. An automated system does, however, reduce the time and paperwork associated with the manual systems. It allows for easier planning and task assignment. An automated system will do many tasks (such as shift reminder dates for a changing deadline) automatically. It provides information at your fingertips regarding file status, reducing the need to pull the file (and possibly mis-place it or the documents in it)

Computerized tickler systesm (sometimes referred to as "to-do lists") enhance case management. Whether you are a solo practitioner with one staff person or a firm of several lawyers and staff, networking your computerized to-do list system will greatly increase the efficiency of file and case management.

File Opening - Assignment of Tasks.

At file opening, the lawyer can identify not only dates for file review but also tasks to be completed. He or she can assign tasks to a lawyer or staff member and enter target and deadline dates for the completion of each task. At the start of the lawyer or staff member’s day, the computer is turned on and on their to-do list will appear the name of the file to be pulled or the tasks they are to complete for that day. These tasks may have been entered by the user, after a conference or meeting with the lawyer when the file was opened. If the lawyer worked on the file after business hours, he or she may have entered task assignments for others in the office or deadlines into the system and those entries now appear on each lawyer and staff person’s calendar the following day.


Upon task completion, the user can indicate such in the system. Uncompleted tasks will roll over to the next day. The lawyer can remain abreast of the progress of a file by pulling up the file name in the to-do list system at any time and reviewing completed tasks, uncompleted tasks and notes made on the file by those working on it.

Basic Features

Computerized tickler software applications should provide some basic features:

• Tickler systems should be networked systems where there is more than one attorney or staff member accessing files.
• Data entry can be performed by everyone, if desired.
• Information can be entered by the attorney for his tasks/dates as well as for tasks and dates he/she wishes to assign to others.
• Information should be accessible by all attorneys and staff.
• Roll-over for tasks that are not completed on the date scheduled to the following day.
• Upon computer start-up or opening of the application, such software systems should provide automatic reminders of tasks to be completed that day as well as reminders of tasks scheduled for previous days that have not been completed
• Tickler information can be sorted and viewed on screen or printed by client/matter, attorney/staff member, or date criteria.


• Date Reminder Forms
• New Client Information Sheet or File Opening Checklist forms


STEP 1: When a file is opened a New Client Information Form and/or File Opening Checklist should be completed which identifies:

• event dates to be entered into the tickler/calendar system.
• three (3) advance warning dates for each event date.
• tasks to be completed for the file.
• completion dates for each task.
• three (3) advance warning dates for each task completion date.
• staff assignments for each task.

STEP 2: From the File Opening Checklist or new New Client Information Sheet, enter all identified critical dates and their reminder dates into the tickler system. (Note: new tickle dates can be entered at any time either by the attorney or by completing a date reminder form and submitting it to his or her secretary for entry.) All forms used for date entry should be filed in the client file.

STEP 3: At the beginning of each day, the tickler system, when accessed, will indicate the files to be pulled or tasks to be completed for that day. All files corresponding to the tickler information on screen are pulled and distributed to the appropriate lawyer. Information about the location of files can be obtained by reviewing the tickler system to see if that file was tickled to be pulled; and, if so, by whom.

STEP 4: In the event the task to be completed by the day’s date cannot be completed, the attorney can either allow the tickled file date to "roll-over" to the next day or assign a new file tickler date. Either way, the new tickler date should be noted on the file opening checklist or the outside jacket of the file and entered into the system (either by the attorney or his secretary). The file should be re-filed in the file cabinet until the next tickle date arrives.

Should a critical date or deadline change, the change should be entered into the system as well as the change in all associated reminder and follow-up dates. (Note: some systems which are "rules based" systems will automatically change the reminder and follow-up dates associated with a critical date when the critical date changes based on the intervals used in setting the original dates.)

STEP 5: Upon completion of a task, the tickler entry should be marked as completed.

STEP 6: The automated tickler system should be backed-up on tape and the tape taken off-site daily. Printed reports of all tickler dates should be printed on a routine basis and also stored off-site.

STEP 7: A tickler report should be run daily and weekly and distributed to all attorneys and staff. These hard copies can serve as back-up to the system in the event the system goes down for a period of time.


Like manual systems, computerized tickler systems require development of system procedures, consistent compliance with procedures by lawyers and staff and entry of all appropriate information and deadlines. Redundancy is also important in computerized systems. Computerized systems must be backed up daily and stored off site. Printed reports of tickler dates should be distributed to lawyers and staff daily. Lawyers and staff may choose to keep their own tickler dates on a manual or personal computerized calendar in addition to the firm-wide tickler system. It is important that personal tickler calendars are "synched up" with the firm-wide system daily.

Calendar Systems

The "Calendar" is a device for monitoring event dates i.e., deadlines, filing dates, and court appearances for both your office and the opposition. The calendar is maintained in addition to a file tickling system, and the two serve as backups to each other. A lawyer is reminded of an important date or deadline by its appearance on the calendar as well as by the file’s reappearance because of a tickle date.

Use of Calendar Systems

As with tickler systems, a calendar system may be manual or automated. Ideally, you will have both an automated system, backed up by a manual system. Regardless of whether your calendar system is manual or automated, steps should be taken to ensure that dates are properly calendared.

Calendaring All New Dates Immediately

Immediate calendaring of new dates is critical for an effective calendaring system. Here are suggestions for shortening the time between the receipt of a new date and its placement on the main calendar.

• New Client Information Sheets. A New Client Information Sheet should include a portion designated for the entry of important legal deadlines associated with the case; (i.e., statute of limitation, file review frequency and first tickle date.) The client intake sheet should be filed in the client file folder and submitted to the calendar controller for entry into the system.
• File Opening Checklist. A File Opening Checklist should be used when opening a new file. Critical dates should be identified when a new file is opened and a date reminder form completed for these dates. These forms should be submitted to the calendar controller for entry on the calendar as well as for filing in the file tickler system.
•Mail Handling . In the small office, the person opening the mail can be responsible for calendaring any critical dates indicated. All incoming mail should be date stamped and marked to indicate the critical date has been calendared. The critical date can be highlighted or checked to indicate it has been entered.
• Date Reminder Forms. Date Reminder Forms should be printed in three (3) part form and color-coded. Attorneys may want to carry some forms with them outside the office so they can complete the forms as new dates are received. Upon return to the office, the slips can be submitted to the calendar controller for entry and filing in the file tickler system.
• Access to the Calendar. The main docketing calendar should be maintained in a central location and accessible to all. Entries should be made in ink. Do not erase date entries as they are changed. Entries can be color coded for attorney or date type. Entries to the main calendar should also be made to the individual attorney and secretary’s calendars.
• Daily Conferences with Staff. Meet with your staff daily to confirm new calendar items and discuss tickled cases. This is an excellent time to review mail, update case status and assign tasks. Good communication can prevent calendaring errors.

Setting Reminder and Follow-Up Dates
All deadlines should be entered in the system as they arise. Reminder dates associated with each deadline should also be established by the attorney and entered into the system. Ideally, three reminder dates will be entered for each deadline: one (1) month, two (2) weeks and one (1) week prior to the deadline.

Follow-up reminders are also important. Follow-up dates serve to remind you that certain tasks were to be completed or actions taken. Without reminder and follow up dates, a critical date can be missed. Failure to respond to a critical date is a common type of malpractice.

As the case proceeds, the secretary should bring to the lawyer’s attention the reminder and follow-up dates and mark off the dates that have been completed.

Calendar Reports

Calendar entries for the day, week or month should be printed and distributed to everyone.

Types of Calendar Systems

Central Manual Calendar

In its traditional form, the docket calendar is a large desk-top calendar which is maintained in a central location and managed by one staff member. Lawyers and staff members submit a date reminder form to this staff person (calendar controller) indicating dates to be placed on the calendar. (Note: the date reminder forms should also be placed in the file tickler box. See the section entitled, File Tickler Systems.)

The calendar should be kept up-to-date and should be accessible to everyone in the office. However, only one person should be assigned the task of entering dates on the calendar. A back-up person should be assigned this task in the absence of the calendar controller.

The Computer Calendar

Large firms have already embraced automation in the managing of their calendar system. Many small firms are also shifting their calendaring to computerized systems. There are software applications specifically designed for use by law firms which combine calendar, tickler, to-do systems and case management. Calendars are also available with the various office suite applications. Lawyers should maintain individual manual or computerized calendars (palm pilots) as duplicate calendars in the event of system failure.

Computerized calendars on a networked system allow individual calendar information to be accessible by all system users. It is easier to schedule meetings involving other attorneys or staff members when individual calendars can be viewed by everyone. Users can be notified when an event in which they need to be involved is scheduled and reply as to their availability - all through the computerized system. When a firm-wide calendar is needed, the calendar system will pull all of the individual calendars together into a large one.

Entries are easily modified. In some applications, predetermined reminder dates for each type of date can be established. When the calendar date is changed, all of the reminder dates associated with that date will automatically shift as well. The computerized calendar also allows for tickling events years in advance.

Daily, weekly and monthly calendars can be printed and distributed. Events can be calendared to come up on a reoccurring basis. Printed calendars can be stored off-site. In the event of system failure or disaster, the most recent calendar information is available to the firm. Finally, computerized calendar information can be backed-up and stored off-site as well.

Individual Calendars

It is quite routine for lawyers to keep their own personal calendars via a manual or automated system. Individual calendars are recommended only in addition to a central calendar. Both calendars must be updated currently. This is particularly easy now with the use of PDA’s. PDA technology also allows the attorney to check availability for court dates and meetings on the spot. The new date is recorded in the PDA and the PDA can then be "synched up" with the firm’s central calendar upon his or her return to the office.

In Summary

Tickler and calendar systems are important tools for the management of your law practice. They discipline the lawyer in the management of each file. They assist in case and time management. They ensure that deadlines are not missed.

The investment of time you make in managing your practice through the use of tickler and calendar systems will not only help to protect you from malpractice, but will provide you the peace-of-mind that you are not letting anything fall between the cracks.

Resources used for this piece and which may be beneficial to you in implementing a tickler/calendar system are:

The Lawyer’s Desk Guide to Preventing Legal Malpractice, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyer’s Professional Liability. (Available through the TNBAR Management Services Library.)

Risk Management, Survival Tools for Law Firms, by Anthony E. Davis, ABA published jointly by the Section of Law Practice Management and Center for Professional Responsibility. (Available through the TNBAR Management Services Library.)

A Guide to Setting Up and Running Your Law Office, by the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund.