I recently made an off-hand comment on Linked In and garnered several likes and comments. The comment? That the most important things for lawyers to do were to attend court dates and file pleadings–on time.
My view is that someone may not like what I have to say, but I can respect the court by at least attending my court dates. A judge may disagree with my pleading, but it is respectful to all concerned to turn it in on time. When I have a trial or large project, I block out the time and let family, friends, and other clients know that I am not available for a period of time.
What surprised me were the likes, comments, and messages I received after the LinkedIn comment. People who have hired lawyers have had a different experience–lawyers fail to honor commitments.
In some ways, this shouldn’t surprise me. I once stood with several grown men who had completed law school and gained admittance to the bar in open court in front of a judge. Setting the next date, I saw a conflict on my calendar. I urged we set the date for a day when I was free. My co-counsel and opposing counsel alike piped up: they could cover the date, and I could notify them of any problems.
“See, you have helpful colleagues!” observed the judge. I was less confident, but the hearing was set for the date I identified as a conflict. At least four adult men assured the judge–and me–the matter would be handled.
Fast-forward 28 days to the date of the hearings–the one described above and my hearing. I got up a bit before 5:00 a.m. to be out the door by about 6:00 a.m. for the long and unpredictable commute. Within an hour, I had to pull over for a series of frantic calls and texts: no one could attend the court date set at their insistence. Could I cover it?
No. No, I couldn’t.
As an adult and as a lawyer, I had identified a conflict, spoken about it well in advance, and been assured it wasn’t a problem. I had gotten up at 5:00 a.m. and left my home by 6:00 a.m. to make it to my prior commitment, a 9:30 a.m. court date in a different courthouse, on time. I had been on the road and, due to a rare smooth commute, was almost at my destination before the other lawyers deigned to identify a dilemma.
Inability to make a 9:30 a.m. court date is not a 7:00 a.m. problem. It is a 28-days-ago problem. At the very least, colleagues could have been called the week–or even day–before. They could have heeded my concern for not setting two court dates in two different courthouses at one time.
Part of practicing law is knowing conflicts will arise. This means leaving a little white space on the calendar in addition to having systems in place for family illness, car trouble, and the like.
For some reason, that white space on the calendar–cushion between court dates, due dates, and meetings–scares lawyers. I think it is simply a matter of greed–wanting to schedule–and be paid for–several things at once. This is not sustainable.
I find this accessory very helpful:
I’ve blogged about this before when I suggested lawyers might have more time if they employed the calendar.
Time management seems to be an ongoing problem for lawyers. The number of missed deadlines, missed court dates, and chaos I observe is not isolated. Based on the response to my LinkedIn post, I know clients see the problem and are bothered by it.
We can do better.
(I might make a huge amount of money and leave my opponents alone if you click the affiliate links above.)