It’s a well-known truth of life that we all make mistakes. But some mistakes and circumstances are always going to be a little more serious than others. And when you are a legal professional, any errors can be detrimental to your timeline, client’s needs, and the overall outcome of your case.
Here are some mistakes made by other legal professionals that you can learn from in order to avoid in the future:
#1: Incorrectly redacted documents
The fail: One of the most media-sought cases of redaction failure was made by Paul Manafort’s attorneys, the team that represented the chairman of former President Donald Trump’s campaign. Their mistake—not using a secure digital redaction method to mask critical case information—cost them their case completely.
How to avoid: Don’t trust analog methods of redaction to work for digital documents. Use the specifically designed functions in professional PDF editing software to redact your documents in a way that the data simply cannot be retrieved.
#2: Inconsistent formatting
The fail: An Illinois lawyer was federally ordered to pay attorney fees and double costs to his opponent for filing a document that was not only “chock-full of impenetrable arguments and unsupported assertions, and it is organized in ways that escape our understanding” but also for being a “typographical nightmare” that “uses five different fonts and various font sizes, including three different fonts in one sentence, and capitalizes words seemingly at random.”
In this case, he’d chosen to allow his client to prepare the filings and had only provided his electronic signature, apparently without taking the time to review the documents—at all.
How to avoid: Organize your legal documents–all the way down to the minute detail of page numbering and ordering. Knowing the formatting requirements of your state’s court system can save you the headache of having your filing rejected.
#3: Illegible documents due to poor scanning
The fail: A 2019 study by One Legal showed that as much as 7% of rejections are due to illegibility. Missing items like names, signature titles, and other overlooked requirements are some of the cited causes of rejected filings.
How to avoid: When converting your documents into a digital format, you must make sure they are legible upon transmission. You should also be well-versed in the court’s file size, document color, image quality and size, and document searchability requirements.
#4: Reviewing only printed copies of filings
The fail: An attorney filing documents with the U.S. Supreme Court failed to check the electronic version of his document prior to submission, looking only at the paper copy, which ended up being vastly different, leading to rejection.
How to avoid: Rejection should never be your first line of defense against major mistakes when submitting court filings. Typos, redactions, and other elements are best avoided when systematically approached in order to get the most out of your document filing workflow.
#5: Outdated email filtering processes
The fail: In one Florida case, a law firm’s email system was set up to automatically delete emails that were flagged as spam, without review by a human. When a significant judgment by default was sent by email, the attorneys never even received it and missed the deadline to appeal.
How to avoid: Consider all processes and listen to technology consultants or experts who point out gaps. Create a contingency plan for your firm that prevents mistakes and handles damage control if there is a mishap.
#6: Missing eService elements
The fail: A law firm was thrown for a loop when a malpractice suit was filed due to the eService email not containing specific information required by the court.
How to avoid: Elements such as your opposing party’s email or physical address are critical to carrying out service of process. Carefully check all local rules for eService, or use a third-party provider to ensure you have all the accurate information.
#7: Witness coaching
The fail: Despite an agreement preventing any counsel from being in the same room as a witness, one attorney was caught whispering to the witness via a Zoom call. This breach resulted in the attorney and witness being ordered by a Pennsylvania court to reimburse opposing counsel for time spent from the preparation of the motion to the hearing on the motion.
How to avoid: In a video call, any attempt to communicate with another party could be misconstrued. Treat your remote proceedings with all the same integrity you would treat other basic rules of courtroom decorum.
#8: Failing to read beyond the subject line
The fail: Legal staff for telecommunications giant AT&T lost a major appeal due to relying on the subject line of an email to tell them about its contents. The email notification was inaccurately labeled by the court but despite this, the appellate panel upheld that their excuse was insufficient. The court wrote that “it is the responsibility of every attorney to read the substance of each order received from the court and that it is not sufficient to rely on the email notifications received from the electronic filing system.”
How to avoid: Thoroughly review email communication from clients, courts, and vendors and organize your notes to make managing your cases much easier. Optimize how you handle your to-do list for the best results.
#9: Not planning enough time to file
The fail: A plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the U.S. District Court due to counsel’s failure to file supporting documents in a timely manner.
How to avoid: When creating your case timeline, scheduling your milestones and court dates too closely can leave little wiggle room for error. Consider creating your timeline with integrated allotments of time for errors, issues, or possible setbacks.
#10: Inexperience with the court filing system
The fail: In a case involving American Airlines, counsel for the commercial airline, being unfamiliar with the court’s electronic filing system, missed a filing on a motion that lay pending. Though the attempt was made for the court to view it as a minor oversight, the court upheld that had he checked the docket, he would have discovered the updates to the motion.
How to avoid: Familiarize yourself with the rules of the court you are filing with. Using legal tech tools to support your firm with court filings can help you avoid mistakes like this. The potential cost of mistakes is best avoided when you prepare for them well.
Whether your firm is supported by a robust staff or a smaller team, there should be checks and balances in place to ensure that you are managing your clients well and filing error-free, legible, and well-constructed documents every time. Avoid errors in filing and other critical processes by developing an all-hands approach to your process of reviewing documents and staying up to date with important case updates and deadlines.
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