Thursday, December 17, 2015

Legal documents, rules, and cases: they are your friends! More novel concepts in the law

Many times when a client (or potential witness) gets some legal documents in the mail, they become overwhelmed, and don't even read them. Or they read parts of them, and blank out the other parts. This often leads a to missed deadlines, a failure to respond, and makes the case even worse. It's the "ostrich" approach to litigation (If I put  my head in the sand, maybe it will all go away). This approach isn't a very good one.

Same thing goes for attorneys sometimes: they will get some pleadings from another attorney, or a notice from court, fail to read it thoroughly, and miss something important about the case.

Ancient truth: Yes, legal paperwork is sometimes hard to read, but if you break it down into smaller parts, it's easier.

And here's the secret: when you read it, it has to contain the rules (or cases) that it's based on, and those rules are something that you will need to use to argue (with or against) to get to win your side of the case!

In other words, you have to read it all (especially if you're an attorney), to see what else you should be arguing. And most likely the judge will read all of it too.  So if you don't read, the judge will wonder why you left that out of your argument.

Let me get specific here: You're the client, and you have gotten a notice to appear on your case. It will have the case number, name of the hearing, where the hearing will be (the courthouse, room, and street address), the time and date. It will also have how to respond to it listed on that same form. You (or your attorney) will need to contact the court to do something about the hearing, like reschedule it.

Sometimes, however, the form will contain other information, like "if you do not respond by 21 days from the date of this notice, then . . . ." What's the "then?" Possible "thens" : this order will be signed by the judge,  or then you will lose your window of appeal, or then the bench warrant will be issued. That's the trigger to get you into motion.

Or, let's try a different scenario: You're the attorney, and you get a new client, who needs you to do something with the documents. Where do you start? What court are you in? Make the first step of actually reading what the client gives you. (One more hint: it might not say what the client thinks - see above, clients don't always read everything!) But at least what the client gives you will have the court on it, and something about the case so you can at least get more information.If the client doesn't have the right papers, get the copies from the court of everything else in the file, so that you know exactly where you stand right now. Otherwise, your response will not be accurate.

Now: back to Novel concepts in the law: use those same documents to get the basis that you need to start arguing. In this scenario, you're the attorney with new pleadings from the other side. Those pleading should have a rule, or case citation in them. Look at the rule (or case)! It could be that the attorney on the other side is citing the wrong thing (so you will need to mention to the court what should actually be argued), or that your client's situation is somehow different from what's cited. Then you go about distinguishing your client's case from the one cited, and try to persuade the judge that he or she should agree with your version of things. It's the old "the sky is blue, your honor, that's true, but the shade of blue it was on that day was streaked with gray clouds. So when the opposition says "blue," they should really be saying . . . " You get the idea.

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