Bar News - August 19, 2011
How Lawyers Can Help the Clogged Courts
By: Peter Hutchins
Editor’s Note: NHBA Secretary Peter Hutchins, a trial lawyer, made a series of suggestions at a recent Board of Governors meeting that touched on how lawyers can help matters move faster amidst the understaffing and delays affecting the court system. Here are some of his suggestions. Bar News welcomes yours. Write to email@example.com.
Assented-to Motions: Lawyers should make every effort to reach a reasonable compromise on discovery and scheduling motions, or simply assent if there is no prejudice and the request from the other lawyer is reasonable. In filing the motions, the word "Assented" should appear in the title of the Motion, in the cover letter to the clerk, and in the preface to the prayer for relief. That way, the clerks and judges know right away it’s assented, thus avoiding the process of docketing for objections, and can be presented to the judge for a quick decision. This also applies to motions to extend deadlines or change an existing scheduling order.
Scheduling Orders. Make every effort to agree to scheduling orders and file with the Court in a timely manner (10 days before scheduling conference). Also let the clerk’s office know that the scheduling conference is unnecessary. This saves court time. Some counties require a "Motion to Cancel Scheduling Conference," so the attorney should take care to know which counties require a motion, and which do not.
Date Selection: When filing Motions to Continue or motions asking the court to schedule trials or hearings, check for available dates from opposing counsel before filing the motion. Then, in the body of the motion (and prayer for relief), list the specific dates or weeks that all parties are available. This avoids the court picking a date and sending out a notice just to be confronted with another Motion to Reschedule because one of the parties is unavailable.
Form of Filings: If a lawyer has a question about how to file something, i.e., the proper form, number of copies, presentation of exhibits, etc., call the clerk’s office first and get the initial filing right. This saves the court staff significant time in returning improperly filed documents and receiving new ones.
Motions to Continue: File Motions to Continue or reschedule early. Don’t wait until the last minute. This allows the court to assign other cases to time slots earlier rather than later.
Determining time necessary for trials or hearings: When requesting a trial or hearing, work with opposing counsel to determine, as closely as possible, how much time will be needed for all parties to present their sides. Then, request this specific amount of time in your motion or letter to the clerk. This greatly assists the court in scheduling and also in organizing a judge’s day so that as many other cases can be handled on that day as possible.
Ex Parte Motions: If you are planning to file a Motion for Ex Parte relief, call the clerk’s office first to determine the best time of day to present the Motion. This will give the clerk and judge a head’s up, and will also provide you with the best time possible to deliver the Motion for a prompt decision.
Proposed Orders: It is always helpful and time saving if, whenever possible and appropriate, you include a proposed order with a Motion or other pleading seeking specific relief. This saves the court from having to dictate and/or type an order from scratch, and may well shorten the time in which you will receive a decision.
Cases from Other Jurisdictions: If you are relying on precedent from jurisdictions outside NH in a pleading or Memorandum of Law, attach a copy of the critical cases or precedent to your pleading. This will save the judge and staff time from having to look up a case that may be difficult or time consuming to locate.
Mediations: If possible, try to schedule mediations at least a couple months before a trial. That way, if the case does settle, the court (and other lawyers with cases scheduled for trial during the same week) will have more time and flexibility to accommodate other cases.
Read the Court Rules: Make every effort to know the applicable Court Rules and Fee Schedules BEFORE you submit a filing. That way, pleadings can be filed in proper form the first time, objections and responsible pleadings will be filed in a timely manner, and fees for filings will be correct. This prevents the needs for supplemental motions to amend, for leave of court, to strike defaults, etc.
Final thoughts: These are a few practices that I try to use all the time; they basically are good lawyering more than anything else. These practices in particular have the collateral benefit of saving the courts and staff a lot of time, allows them to make the most efficient use of judge and staff time, and benefits all the other lawyers and litigants who are "competing" for limited court time and resources.
By the way, none of these practices prejudice the lawyer or his client at all. Putting these steps into practice does not require any lawyer to give the other party a "break" or do a favor to the potential detriment of the lawyer’s client. Rather, they simply involve doing a minimal amount of due diligence before filing motions, and making requests of the court in ways that save the court time. They also offer the additional benefit of increasing the chance you will receiving court rulings that are both prompt and move the case forward.
Peter E. Hutchins of Peter E. Hutchins, LLC, in Manchester, is Secretary of the NH Bar Association and a past president of the NH Bar Association.