Courts of law are places in our society where people go to obtain justice — to get a fair hearing, to obtain a decision or a judgment in surroundings specifically designed to preserve the best possible medium for dispensing justice.
Deadlines fit into this model for obvious reasons. In order for the court and the adversarial process to work, there must be clarity and consistency in communications between parties and in communications to and from the court. Far-reaching decisions made without notice or on short notice do not comport with the concept of justice.
On the other hand, overly rigid adherence to deadlines, deciding cases based on missed deadlines rather than the merits of the dispute is also at odds with the notion of justice. “Deadlines are sometimes missed; accidents happen,” as Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Richard H. Kyle, Sr. (D. Minn.) ruled last week.
The take-away for trial lawyers is that adherence to deadlines is a critical component to our jobs; on the other hand, playing “gotcha litigation” and thinking one can win a case because of a perceived missed deadline without any actual significance might just waste everyone’s time and make one look petty, small-minded, unforgiving, and unkind.
Mind you, some courts and some judges apply some deadlines in a draconian fashion. (From an earlier Minnesota Litigator post, not this rather unsympathetic caution: “When parties wait until the last minute to comply with a deadline, they are playing with fire….”) So one might argue that one owes it to one’s client to try to exploit an adversary’s lapse whenever possible because a lawyer’s duty is zealous advocacy not gracious indulgence. If you are going to go there, however, proceed with caution.