15 September 2009

Judges Rediscover Seven Day Weeks; 24 Hour Days

Under current law, the real meaning of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure's deadlines can be obscure. A ten day deadline can sometimes mean ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen or seventeen days, for example, depending upon the circumstances. The most common deadline periods are five days, ten days, fifteen days, and twenty days, and thirty days (which often means thirty-three days) subject to various recalculations and reinterpretations.

These rules have been evolving since the 1930s, when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted. State courts frequently emulate the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but often with variations. Colorado courts, for example, have a concept called "at issue" used in calculating deadlines, which prevents the middle part of a lawsuit from starting before the first part is over. Federal courts, in contrast, routinely run litigation on parallel tracks, requiring an exchange of information between parties regarding disputed claims and scheduling next steps in the litigation, before the claims which are disputed between the parties to the lawsuit are established.

Recently, two generations after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted, some ambitious law reformer made the seminal discovery that law firms, courts and businesses overwhelmingly organize their affairs in seven day work weeks, with five business days, bookended by "weekend" days, sometimes interrupted by holidays which typically last one or two days.

In a move a sheer brilliance, this law reformer dreamed of a day when legal deadlines came in multiples of seven days, with deadlines moved to the next business day when they fell on a holiday, and where a day really meant a day as used in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

This revolutionary reformer is not know to the general public. Like Moses, he has probably retired from active law practice before reaching the promised land. But, on December 1, 2009, his dream will be realized. Almost every single deadline in almost every federal court rule will be revised to come in multiples of seven days, and to use the word "day" to mean a "day."

We worry. Revolutions are often followed by counterrevolutions. Legal secretaries, paralegals, law clerks, junior litigation associates, and software companies that design programs to calculate legal deadlines, may feel a need to band together against these reforms, which reduce their edge in the job market and are useful only to pro se litigants and good government loving, plain English speaking lawyers who wear pink dress shirts and ties with cartoons on them.

Perhaps reforms like this might have made sense in New York State, where a majority of the judicial officers are justices of the peace whose only educations are high school diplomas. But, in federal court, where every Plaintiffs' and criminal defense lawyer worth his salt can point out his or or his father's important role in the Civil Rights movement, and every lawyer for a business defendant has a three piece suit, wears cuff links, wears silk stockings, ties his necktie with a Windsor knot, and has to leave open a Saturday tee time at the club in the warmer months, where has respect for tradition gone?

Will they retain the new deadlines, but require that a pleadings be e-filed using a encryption standard available only with a license from the Skull and Crossbones Secret Society? Will a new style rule require that all pleadings appear in eleven point Vivaldi font?

Only time will tell.

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