Numerous lawyers, like many other professionals, often procrastinate all kinds of tasks in our professional lives. Sometimes, attorneys put matters off until the last minute because they have other pressing issues to address, and other times, they delay working on matters since they do not have the mental energy to deal with a given matter at a given time. Since many courts accept filings until midnight the day the filing is due, lawyers also routinely procrastinate filing documents and wait until late at night to file documents before a deadline. However, there are many reasons why lawyers should avoid filing documents at the last minute if it is possible to do so.
Perhaps the biggest reason why lawyers should avoid filing documents close to a deadline is since technical issues might need to be addressed at the last minute which can make it harder to file a document on time. Filing systems themselves routinely breakdown, and it is a running joke in a jurisdiction in which I practice that a filing system is down more often than it is not. Filing systems being down is usually not the biggest deal since most courts have an email address where filings can be sent in emergent circumstances or some other system in place to deal with this situation.
Far scarier is when a lawyer faces a personal technical issue close to a deadline. This happened several times in my career, but one particularly scary situation was by far the worst. When I was an associate in Biglaw, a handful of attorneys and myself were working on an appellate brief that needed to be filed by a given deadline. We used Word documents to pass edits to each other and the latest draft would be saved as a new document that was edited by the team.
At about 8 p.m. before a midnight filing deadline one time, the Word version containing the brief got corrupted. We were unable to open the document the regular way, and when we attempted to view the data in the document, a bunch of weird symbols were in the file instead of words. This set our team into a panic, and we quickly needed to react to the situation. Out of desperation, we opened one of the earlier versions of the brief and made all of the edits we could remember into that file. We then finalized everything and got the document filed just in time to meet the deadline. The whole situation was extremely stressful, and the possibility of a technical failure has convinced me that no one should file documents too close to the deadline in case something comes up.
Another reason why lawyers should try not to file documents shortly before a deadline is since the time crunch can impact the work product produced by a lawyer. There are some people that thrive off of pressure and who believe that they perform their best work when they are under pressure. However, most of us would agree that someone can produce their best work when they have time to think about their work product and make several rounds of edits in the days leading up to a filing deadline.
One time, I was given work by a client that needed to file something in two days. Normally, it would take me a week or more to prepare the filing that I needed to complete for the client. I worked hard over the next 48 hours putting together the best work product that I could, but the papers were not as good as they could have been if I took my time and reviewed everything over a number of days until all of the papers were perfect.
People might disagree with me on this, but there is also a courtesy element to filing things well before the deadline. If lawyers file papers close to midnight, most electronic filing systems run by courts will send an email to all of the parties notifying them that papers have been filed. This might invade people’s personal time, since many lawyers might want to log into their e-filing accounts as soon as something is filed to see what is going on. I remember being out once late at night when I got a notification stating that an adversary had filed a summary judgment motion. When someone left to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t resist retrieving the filing on my phone so I could see what my adversary had filed. Of course, empathy for adversaries is rarely a motivation for lawyers, and people can have more discipline about work-life balance, but not intruding personal time is another reason why lawyers should file documents well before deadlines.
In any event, so long as courts accept documents until midnight there will be parties filing papers close to this deadline. However, there are a multitude of reasons why you should file documents well before a deadline if this is at all possible.
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.