Docket control is more than noting deadlines on a calendar. It is the process of recording, tracking, and organizing deadlines for several clients and client matters. In many law firms, the responsibility for docket control is given to a paralegal. Effective docket control requires a broad knowledge of court rules, the complexity of legal tasks, and the schedule of the person assigned to perform the task.
Computers manage modern docket control. Electronic docket control can be as simple as recording the events on a computer calendar, or as complicated as making entries in integrated case management software. In either case, it is not enough to know when the deadline is. Docket control also involves planning to meet the deadline. To assist in planning, the paralegal will designate one or more reminder dates, or ticklers, before the deadline. These reminder dates are also recorded and tracked. For example, if a court order establishes a hearing date of March 15, the paralegal may set a reminder date thirty days in advance to allow time to complete necessary research. A fifteen-day reminder might be sufficient to arrange for subpoenas of witnesses and a one-week reminder will allow for a final meeting with the client before the hearing. The experience of the paralegal and the preferences of the supervising attorney govern the amount of lead time given for specific legal tasks.
The importance of deadlines in a legal office requires heightened vigilance to avoid mistakes. Where possible, a deadline should be noted by two separate individuals — a paralegal and a secretary or a paralegal and a lawyer — and recorded in two separate places. Regular communication to compare notes of upcoming deadlines is crucial and can be a means of acquiring additional assignments from a busy lawyer.
The paralegal must take care to record every deadline in a legal matter. Some deadlines have severe consequences if they are missed. A missed statute of limitations, for example, will prevent the client from recovering damages. A missed trial date can result in dismissal of a lawsuit. Common deadlines that must be recorded are:
The statute of limitations for all claims of the client
Any deadline listed in a court scheduling order
Appointments or scheduled meeting dates
Court hearing or trial dates
Time limits imposed by court rule, such as when the client must respond to a request for documents
Time limits for performing any act under a contract
Time limits set forth in any statute requiring the client to do something or after which the client is allowed to do something
In each case, the paralegal must understand the substantive and procedural rules that affect the deadline. Some court rules, for example, specify a deadline that is a specified time after an event. The paralegal must be able to identify the event and accurately perform the necessary calculation to identify the deadline. Once the deadline and appropriate reminders have been identified, the paralegal must relay those dates to the supervising lawyer and the lawyer's secretary.