• May 22, 2017

In our minds, many trial lawyers like to think of ourselves as warriors, clashing our weapons and out-maneuvering our adversaries. Some of us imagine ourselves in an epic struggle of good against evil, a pitched battle for nothing less than Justice — a transcendent reckoning, an adjustment or realignment of reality so that a wrong is righted and injury is undone.

There is sometimes great truth to our grandiose fantasies. We all know that U.S. lawyers have played enormous roles in the lives of many of their clients and for the benefit of society as a whole.

Unfortunately, though, parts of our job simply cannot be reconciled with our swash-buckling day-dreams. Word-counts, font choices, counting days and calendaring deadlines, on and on and on…. The appalling truth is that a major part of our professional lives is mind-numbing paper-pushing. Sometimes the Achilles heel of trial lawyers can be their failure to comply with a picayune point divorced from the drama that inspires us to do our work.

So our hearts go out to attorney Lisa Stratton of Gender Justice for her recent hard lesson about court technology and deadlines.

Ms. Stratton’s client faced a critical case deadline that fell on a Sunday. Ms. Stratton knew of the deadline and tried to meet the deadline. Unfortunately for her, she was not familiar with the court’s on-line electronic case filing system (which had had a recent change at the time) and her filing did not go through. Ms. Stratton sought relief by suggesting the filing was late due to “technical difficulty.” Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Richard H. Kyle, Sr. (D. Minn.) disagreed:

[Plaintiff] cannot avail herself of this provision, because there is no indication in the record that some “technical difficulty” prevented her from timely commencing this case. The Guide provides several examples of “technical difficulties” including “ECF is unavailable, internet service is unavailable, [and] law firm server malfunction,” but nothing suggests any of those things occurred here. Indeed, all the record reveals is that Stratton, using a colleague’s account on an unfamiliar ECF system, failed to properly upload the Complaint to the Clerk. This simply does not suggest that “technical difficulty,” rather than user error, prevented the Complaint from being correctly submitted. The Court cannot deem the Complaint timely under these circumstances.

The practice pointer here should be obvious and we heard it some time ago in a presentation about appellate practice by former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson. Just because you have until [DATE CERTAIN] to file something with the court, does not mean that you should wait until [DATE CERTAIN] to file something with the court. When you push up against the deadline, you remove any margin for error.

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