As many people within the legal profession already understand from first-hand experience, numerous lawyers have many matters for which they are responsible. When I was working at other law firms, I routinely managed dozens or more matters, and now that I run my own practice, the work and administrative responsibilities are even more pressing. Many lawyers are able to manage all of their tasks well, but some attorneys can be sloppy in how they compose work product, either because of their responsibilities or other factors. In my experience, the biggest areas where attorneys can be sloppy break down into just a few categories.
Copy And Paste Errors
Everyone knows that lawyers copy and paste certain language from one file to another when they are creating legal documents. However, sometimes lawyers forget to change the names of the people involved in a case so the language involves parties that have no bearing on a given lawsuit. One time, I was reading a demand for a bill of particulars that was produced on me from an adversary, and the document kept referencing a party that was not involved in the case. It was apparent to me that the lawyer likely had not thoroughly reviewed the document before the document was produced to our side. As a result, I was able to demand that my adversary supplement the bill of particulars.
Another time, a lawyer clearly copied and pasted discovery demands, and this made many of the demands irrelevant to our case. Our matter was a premises liability lawsuit, and the discovery demands clearly involved a medical malpractice case. Again, I was able to protest many of the demands in the document, and the lawyer likely could have saved time if he reviewed the document more thoroughly in the first instance.
In the past several years, almost every jurisdiction has launched an electronic court filing system — if they did not have one previously. This makes it much easier and quicker to file documents to a court, and all of the people involved with a case get an email about a filing, which makes it harder to argue that someone did not receive documents. However, people sometimes rush through the filing process, and this can lead to problems.
One issue is that people often file documents to the wrong case. It is easy enough to get the wrong index number or party name, and this can lead people to file documents to the wrong case. Moreover, there can also be issues with the PDF of a document that a party files. Sometimes, PDFs for filing miss pages or are not scanned well, and this can make it difficult to read the document and understand its contents. Parties can usually only correct filings with court permission, and this can be onerous to obtain. Courts may even require that parties file a motion to request permission to correct a document. Lawyers can save a lot of time and heartache if they carefully review documents for filing in the first instance and ensure that there are no errors before materials are uploaded for filing.
Lawyers need to redact documents all the time for various different reasons. Many jurisdictions have requirements that documents submitted for filing need to have certain information redacted like social security numbers, bank account numbers, and similar data. Sometimes, lawyers just forget to redact material altogether, either because they did not know that certain information needed to be redacted or they did not carefully review materials to be redacted. I recall one time, I remembered only at the last instant to redact a driver’s license number from a notary block, and I can see why others might miss this. Fortunately, some e-filing systems automatically redact documents if the system thinks a document should have been redacted, and information was not deleted already.
In other instances, lawyers think they redacted documents when in fact, the documents were not properly redacted. Earlier in my career, an adversary of mine crossed out a bunch of social security numbers and other information in pen and filed the document. However, literally every single confidential number could be seen since the lawyer did not thoroughly redact the information, and the lawyer should have at least used sharpie or another method to properly redact the information. At other points in my career, lawyers believed that they were making redactions to PDFs, but the black square redacting the information could easily be removed by anyone who viewed the PDF. Lawyers should make sure that materials are properly redacted so that they ensure they comply with court rules or orders requiring redactions.
All told, lawyers are humans like everyone else, who are likely to make mistakes. Attorneys have a multitude of responsibilities that can make them prone to sloppiness in certain contexts. However, attorneys should try to be less sloppy in at least a few situations so that they can best serve clients and comply with court rules.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.