Tools of the Trade

A Calendar is a Powerful Tool Throughout a Case
guest author: Christine M. Flynn

We use a calendar system in almost every aspect of our daily lives. We organize and manage social, personal and administrative commitments by days, weeks, months and years. We rely upon calendars on a daily basis to tell us where we need to be, what we need to do and when we need to do it. We also refer to calendars to notify us to complete maintenance and preventative items, such as paying bills and attending doctor appointments. This system carries directly over to our professional paralegal career as well.

There are numerous benefits to creating and maintaining an effective calendar and tickler method in a law office. There is a saying that "time is of the essence." Even the most efficient law firm struggles with the daunting task of managing a centralized calendar. An effective calendar and tickler office procedure provides structure and support in recording appointments, monitoring schedules and complying with time-sensitive deadlines. The task of the day-to-day management of a calendar, via paper or digital based, often times is assigned to a paralegal. A paralegal must rely upon his/her education, knowledge and experience combined with strong communication skills in order to create and manage a successful calendar and tickler structure within a firm, government agency or corporation.

The calendar and tickler system must mirror the internal policy of the law firm, governmental agency or corporation. There are generally two types of calendar applications: paper and digital. Digital based calendars include legal case software, internet based systems or calendar applications. However, some attorneys prefer a paper based calendar, such as an appointment or date book. While both applications have pros and cons, use of a digital based calendar circumvents issues such as editing, inability to set recurring appointments, misplaced planners as well as lack of portability and back-up.

When instituting the calendar and ticker policy, a paralegal should meet with his/her supervising attorney to outline procedures as well as responsibility for day-to-day calendar management. Discuss expectations including entering data, monitoring events and advising attorneys and staff of critical deadlines. It may be beneficial to attend weekly meetings with the legal team in order to review assignments and identify scheduling conflicts. This meeting can be particularly helpful in reviewing status of files and monitoring statutes and settlements while serving to improve and maintain good communication with attorneys, staff and clients. Following the weekly meeting, update a calendar to reflect completed assignments and/or rescheduled appointments.

The role of a well-designed calendar and tickler system is relevant to the entire course of the case. Whether instituting suit, responding to discovery or proceeding to mediation or trial, a calendar serves as a valuable tool in navigating day to day case management while ensuring ongoing compliance with dates and deadlines. When inputting calendar items, create clear, concise, uniform entries according to the Best Practices or firm guidelines. All descriptions must be complete (i.e., case name, number, task, contact information, etc.). Do not use abbreviations. If an entry contains a similar name or initials, include the complete name. If a calendar conflict arises, bring the matter to the attention of administrative staff and the attorney. This early on resolution will alleviate conflict or uncertainty amongst the legal team.

The key to a successful and efficient calendar technique is utilizing tools such as tickler systems. Effective calendar case management does not merely include logging events. Instead, a paralegal must be cognizant in managing and setting notifications with respect to upcoming events, deadlines and assignments. A paralegal should recognize the various duties and responsibilities of each member of the legal team. For example, a particular paralegal/attorney team may handle pre-litigation cases while another handles a case from inception to conclusion. Recognize and understand the mechanics of the firm. Communication plays a key role in advising the proper member of the team of critical deadlines or upcoming events. Follow up early and often and be proactive in your position.

There are multiple types of sub-calendars within the paper and digital based applications. These include centralized, department or individual calendars. In some instances, the particular type of calendar is a firm requirement. Other times it is merely a personal preference of a managing partner or attorney. The centralized digital calendar is often preferred. The centralized digital calendar provides flexibility as well as remote and shared access. The need for global participation and uniformity within the firm is crucial. If one attorney uses Google calendar and another a paper based calendar, this may cause friction or confusion amongst the legal team as well as increase the risk of unknown conflicts resulting in missed deadlines or appointments.

In handling case management, there are multiple sources that generate calendar events. These include the following:

  • Court imposed deadlines: Litigation revolves around deadlines which cannot be missed. A paralegal should be cognizant of all deadlines in a case. Docket entries are an excellent source of court issued deadlines and filings. Court imposed deadlines and filings should be circulated to the legal team and appropriately calendared to ensure compliance and guard against missed deadlines. Both the actual event as well as an advanced warning notification should be logged on the calendar to allow sufficient time to prepare a document or response.
  • Incoming mail: Proper mail handling procedures are crucial. Incoming mail must be reviewed, scanned and routed to the appropriate paralegal and/or attorney for review and entry into a calendar. Do not separate enclosures. Do not merely set mail requiring immediate attention in an "in-bin". Instead, discuss time constraints directly with the administrative support team and the assigned attorney.
  • Verbal extensions: An attorney may verbally negotiate an extension of time with opposing counsel to respond to pleadings or discovery or produce documents. This request may occur informally via e-mail or telephone. It is important for the paralegal/attorney team to communicate to avoid misunderstanding with respect to approaching time frames for filings or responses. Verbal extensions should be confirmed in writing to counsel with the agreed-upon date inserted into a calendar.
  • Assignments: A managing partner may assign a task to a paralegal or associate to organize a file, complete legal research or draft a pleading within a required time frame. Create a strategy for the management and organization of task assignments within the calendar system including relying reminders in order to meet expectations regarding timely completion of assignments.

As noted, the use of a calendar is not merely limited to recording appointments and entering deadlines. There are other significant areas in which an organized calendar and/or tickler procedure may assist a paralegal in notifying the legal team of a potential issue in a case including:

  • Routine file reviews: Most firms, corporations or governmental agencies handle hundreds (if not thousands) of files. No matter what the case load, even in the office of a sole practitioner, an active file is sometimes overlooked. To avoid this potential pitfall, create an active file list. Place active files on a recurring calendar or diary (30, 60 or 90 days depending upon firm standards). This will ensure that a member of the legal team conducts timely file reviews. This procedure will serve to foster the client/attorney relationship.
  • Monitoring budgets: In some instances, client billing standards require the review of costs or budgets. Monitoring costs or compliance with budgets provides the legal team with a safeguard in potentially exceeding budgets or failing to provide timely billing statements to clients. The submission of an updated budget outlining tasks and costs may result in avoiding denial of time entries or bills at a later date for failure to comply with client parameters.
  • Inactivity: Certain federal or state jurisdictions institute rules concerning termination of cases for periods of inactivity. A paralegal should be aware of these rules and identify receipt of court notifications regarding any potential dismissal or inactive periods. These documents must be brought to the attention of a supervising attorney. Generate a corresponding calendar entry to allow an attorney sufficient time to resolve any potential issues or errors regarding improper dismissal of claims.

The importance of inputting, managing and maintaining a competent calendar system by a paralegal should not be overlooked. The use of an effective and efficient calendar by the legal team will guard against potential malpractice claims and reduce errors while ensuring compliance with deadlines and streamlining communication, ultimately benefiting the legal team and improving client relations.


Christine M. Flynn is a litigation paralegal at the law firm of Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, P.C., where her specialties are personal injury, UM/UIM, coverage, bad faith, and appellate practice. She has 25 years of experience in her field. Ms. Flynn is the past president of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals and is currently serving as chair of the Litigation and Professional Development committees. Ms. Flynn also serves as pro bono coordinator and liaison to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service for NFPA. She is a member of the Paralegal Studies Advisory Board at the Community College of Philadelphia and a past member of the Widener Law Center, Legal Education Institute's Board of Advisors. Ms. Flynn is a member of the National Notary Association, as well as a paralegal member of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice and the Philadelphia Bar Association. She is the author of several articles for various publications, such as The Legal Intelligencer, Paralegal Today, and the National Paralegal Reporter. Ms. Flynn also has presented various paralegal webinars for the Institute of Paralegal Education (IPE).

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