General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

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Law Trends & News

Practice Area Newsletter

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

Spring 2009

Vol. 5, No. 3

Practice Management


Regular File Reviews or “Tickler” Systems

A regular file review system is critical to malpractice prevention and efficient handling client matters. A file review or “tickler” system can take many forms, depending upon firm size and personnel availability. The fundamental purpose of a tickler system is to keep files out of attorney’s offices and in centralized file locations (or if absolutely necessary, decentralized file drawers), until periodic review is warranted.

The advantages of a tickler system are obvious. First, a tickler system dramatically reduces the possibility of a lost file or forgotten deadline. Second, procrastination is less likely when an office is clean and the attorney has a finite number of matters to review on any given day. Third, periodic file review enables attorneys to proactively contact clients to communicate file status. Finally, greater efficiency is achieved when both support staff and attorneys know where a file is located.

The easiest and most effective method of establishing and complying with a tickler system is to integrate it with the perpetual calendar system. Case management software routinely includes automated perpetual calendar systems, but always remember that your automated system is only as good as the information that is entered into it. Some examples of current case management software available to lawyers are Amicus, Time Matters, PracticeMaster, and ProLaw. Double check (or triple check) the dates for accuracy as they are entered into your system. In a manual tickler system, regular review dates are assigned to new matters by the responsible attorney and entered into the calendar system as a docket item. On the review dates, files are retrieved from the centralized file room by the file clerk, or from decentralized file drawers, and given to the responsible attorneys for review. The attorney then has a limited number of files requiring his or her attention on any given day. If no action is required, the file is assigned a new review date and returned to the centralized file room or file drawers.

Periodic review dates should not exceed 30 days, even when activity is not anticipated for many months. This is also an excellent opportunity to send the short status report to the client and to monitor ongoing conflicts potential.

File Tickler Basics

  • When first setting up a file, automatically mark the file for review in 30, 60, and 90 days.
  • Mark the review dates on both the file and a separate calendar accessible by staff.
  • A file must be delivered to the reviewing attorney on the scheduled review date.
  • All files should be reviewed at least every 30 days.
  • When reviewing the file, the attorney should always add future review dates.
  • No file should be placed back in the shelves without at least two future file review dates.


A tickler system, whether automated or manual, will alleviate the need to keep files stacked on attorney desk if they are not active. The system also prevents files from falling through the cracks.

The following is a list of Tickler and Calendar Systems: Suggested Dates and Deadlines.

Tickler & Calendar Systems
Suggested Dates & Deadlines

  • General file review (every 30 days)
  • Statutes of limitations
  • All appointments and meetings
  • Court dates
  • Dates from Scheduling Order
  • Interrogatories
  • Depositions
  • Tax returns
  • Real estate closings
  • Lien notifications
  • Pleadings
  • Discoveries
  • Subpoenas
  • Corporate tax dates and stockholders’ meetings
  • Hearings before administrative agencies, commissions,
    and boards
  • Due dates of the opposition on court cases
  • All dates related to follow-up activities
  • All dates from “area of practice” checklists
  • Promises made to others or by others
  • All other self-imposed discretionary deadlines

The firm’s file tickler system is the thin lifeline between a successful attorney client relationship and a missed-statute disaster. There’s no harm in “diary-ing” the file too much. Even if you are very diligent about file maintenance and follow-up, your docket control safety net one should take into account a potential mishap by others.

Todd Scott is the vice president of Member Services for Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company. He is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, where he serves as co-chair of the Practice Management & Marketing Section, and the Nebraska State Bar Association.

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.