I’ll be completely honest with you. I haven’t practiced law for almost 10 years and even thinking about this topic is enough to give me hives. Is there anything worse (professionally) than realizing that you’re about to miss a deadline? I think not.
That said, mistakes happen. Life gets in the way. Things get miscalendared. We all have to deal with this scenario at one point or another. So, let’s dive into it, shall we? Here are our top 10 strategies for dealing with a deadline you’re about to miss.
You know I had to say this, right? Of course, the number one strategy for dealing with a missed deadline is to simply never miss a deadline.
Of course “not missing deadlines” is easier said than done, but the implications of a missed deadline can be dire:
- Case dismissal
- Damaged reputation
- Sanctions from the court
- Malpractice suits and the inevitable rise in your insurance premiums if you do get sued
- Being disbarred
Fortunately, there are some things we can all do well before a deadline hits to ensure that we don’t miss it. The next two tips are going to focus on those preventative strategies.
#2: Air-tight calendaring
In this day and age, there are very few excuses for not calendaring something correctly. There are a plethora of digital calendaring options that will notify you six ways to Sunday that you have a deadline approaching.
If you’re not using one of those currently, you should seriously consider the investment as those programs are highly sophisticated and typically customizable for your venue or court.
#3: Have a system just for you
Technology is great, but there’s nothing like good, old-fashioned personal guilt.
I’m not here to tell you what kind of motivation (or punishment) works for you. You need to figure that out for yourself.
Whatever you do, come up with a personal system that ensures you never miss a deadline. Use it every single time you have a deadline so that your system becomes as routine as shooting a free throw. That way, if technology fails you, you’ve got your own incredible brain to save the day.
Be aware that even the best systems fail sometimes, though. Life happens. You might get sick, or your workload may be overwhelming, or maybe you just made a mistake. Let’s talk about what to do when you realize that you’re up against a seemingly impossible due date.
#4: Understand the deadline
Before you panic too hard, wrap your head around exactly what it is you’re going to be late on. Is it a filing deadline? Is it a service deadline? Something else?
Check and recheck the rules of civil procedure and the local rules for your jurisdiction. See if they prescribe a process for dealing with the situation.
If warranted, you can even call the court clerk to see if they have any guidance on what you should do. You may have options you hadn’t realized, but you also might have to figure out how to get it done.
#5: See if you can get a stipulated extension
The truth is, anyone who has ever practiced law has faced the awful reality that they’re simply not going to meet a deadline.
That’s why most court rules (like these from the Northern District of California) expressly provide a procedure for stipulating to an extension with opposing counsel.
In fact, most rules encourage lawyers to grant such extensions so long as their clients’ interests won’t be harmed. Go ahead and ask.
Before you need your stipulated extension, however, you should be gracious if your opponents ever ask you for more time. The more grace you’ve shown in these circumstances, the more you’re likely to get in return when you’re up against a wall.
#6: Consider your options for relief from the court
We’ve all had that one opposing counsel who is unwilling to budge on things like stipulated extensions.
In my view, that just makes them look bad in the eyes of the court. But I digress.
Typically, the court will have a written procedure you can invoke if you’ve missed a deadline and need the court’s forgiveness – and some extra time. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b), for example, allows a party to move for an extension in cases of “excusable neglect.”
#7: Determine if there’s a process for formally overcoming missed deadlines
The truth is, not all deadlines are court-related. Some are imposed by agencies and other bodies that you may have to interact with on behalf of your client.
The good news is that those agencies sometimes offer procedural rules for overcoming a missed deadline, such as showing good cause for your misstep. Don’t overlook this possibility as you’re trying to do damage control.
#8: Research, research, research
I can’t say this enough. We’ve all been in your shoes.
In fact, missed deadlines happen so often that organizations like the American Bar Association have articles on the full body of law pertaining to the issue. Seek out those resources and see what you can glean from them.
#9: Do not hide from your client
Whatever you do, you cannot hide your misstep from your client. In fact, the sooner you tell them, the better.
Of course, this isn’t going to be an easy phone call. Nonetheless, you must plan out your strategy and communicate with your client openly and honestly.
#10: Forgive yourself
This is the touchy-feely part of the article but it is important.
Once you’ve exhausted every procedure available to you, take a deep breath. Write down everything that happened just in case you need a precise memory later.
Then let it go.
We all make mistakes. You, like countless lawyers before you, will get past this.