23 December 2005

The End of the Year Rush For Lawyers

Stereotypically, the busiest time of the year for accountants is right before income tax returns are due on April 15. For lawyers, December is often a busy time.

Wealthy people want to make sure that their tax planning gifts are made before year's end. The travel agent is the estate planner's best friend. I don't know how many people have come to me wanting to have their affairs in order before flying off to some distant destination for a holiday. And, emotions run high for divorcing, or already divorced couples, as every imaginable circumstance conspires to ruin the holidays for someone, unless a court intervenes promptly. For lawyers whose continuing legal education requirements are coming due, there is the rush to get the last few classes in. In firms large and small, owners agonize over whether to try to push expenses into the following year, or to prepay as many as possible in the current year, for tax purposes. People rush to get assignments that have lingered for some time done, so that bills can go out before year's end. Of course, lawyers like to take vacations as well, and so there is also the rush to get every matter in the office sufficiently stablized that they can all wait for a few days.

Getting anything done in late December isn't easy. Everyone wants their task finished, but everyone necessary to get those tasks finished always seems to be on vacation or otherwise out of reach.

Many judges deliberately schedule their most contentious cases for the eve of the holidays in an effort to nudge the parties towards compromise. Of course, the real punishment is to have a demanding trial or hearing right after the holidays. If you have to be in court ready to deal with the uncertainties that attend any such appearance on December 27 or 28th, you are going to put off relaxations and celebration until the New Year.

Then, of course, there are for lawyers, like anyone else, some combination of numerous social events which must be attended for etiquette and business development reasons, kids who are out of school, guests visiting you, travel arrangements to visit someone or someplace else, and all the other end of year stresses that everyone faces.

This year, bankruptcy lawyers are still riding the wave of the pre-October rush of filings initiated in advance of a new and more stringent law, but, thankfully, most new laws take effect in July, rather than January, so lawyers don't have to spend December getting up to speed. The exception, of course, is that tax laws generally do follow calendar years.

All this, plus endless Christmas elevator music and intense pressure towards consumerism, contribute to December not being my favorite month of winter. I prefer the cold, bleak, contemplative days of January, when the rush has subsided and a sense of profound ordinariness returns to the rhythms of daily life.

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