Many lawyers, like professionals from other fields, slow down their work during the holiday season. In fact, many lawyers take vacation in the last few weeks of the year, and the courts often schedule fewer appearances during this time so everyone can take time off and not worry about the holidays. However, some attorneys service claims, file applications, and other requests that their opponents may need to spend time responding to such matters over the holidays. Of course, some problems cannot wait, and over the holidays any problems that arise will have to be resolved, even if it causes people inconvenience. However, lawyers should be more sensitive to their opponents and maintain a ceasefire by adjourning matters whenever they can until after the start of the new year.
In my personal experience, most lawyers keep a truce. It is very common for the pace of litigation and transactional matters to slow down during the vacation, and this allows people to spend more time with their families and not devote brain space to work matters. In addition, many lawyers naturally agree to adjournment if it is not critical to address the issues immediately.
In the past I have tried to ensure that I have not made a solicitation, motion, or other request that needed to be replied to by the end of the year. I also try not to file applications towards the end of the year for practical reasons as the courts sometimes react more slowly during this time. Even if I absolutely have to file an application in the last few weeks of the year, I try to use a later return date so that objection or response papers don’t have to be submitted until after the holidays.
However, not all lawyers take into account their opponents’ vacation time. In fact, it is common for litigants to submit uncritical applications on public holidays, with filing deadlines around Christmas and New Year. Sometimes this can backfire on the party who submitted the request.
Once, towards the end of the year, an opponent of mine submitted a completely unnecessary request for discovery. My objection was due right around Christmas, which didn’t really get me into the phase because I’m not celebrating this holiday. However, your answer was due right around New Years Day. I filed the objection in good time without asking for an adjournment, and then the opponent asked for more time to submit reply papers. I said that the opponent had decided to file the motion around the holidays, and I had filed the appeal in good time without adjournment. Eventually I agreed to an adjournment as a courtesy, but another litigator might have forced this attorney to write and submit response papers around New Year’s Day, as the opponent had decided to file their motion by the end of the year.
While there is no rule or procedure that lawyers must observe some kind of truce, such an act is likely to preserve the goodwill of the opponent. Most lawyers try to avoid doing unnecessary work during the vacation so they can spend most of their time with families and friends. Opponents will rightly be upset if someone forces them to work on the holidays, when the matter might as well have been settled for the New Year.
Obviously, goodwill and courtesy to opponents are extremely important in solving problems and producing beneficial results for customers. This is especially true in the current environment. As many attorneys know from personal experience, the COVID-19 is currently making it more difficult to obtain judicial intervention and legal proceedings have been suspended in many jurisdictions. As a result, negotiating resolutions on matters between lawyers is becoming increasingly important for most legal issues.
Keeping a truce is also just the thing. The COVID-19 pandemic has connected lawyers to their adversaries like never before. To move the legal work forward, lawyers have had to swap cell phone numbers, hold virtual meetings in people’s homes, and share a number of common negative consequences. It seems like a lot more attorneys are empathetic to their opponents than they were before COVID-19, and hopefully that attitude will continue in the profession long after the pandemic ends. It is right to give your opponents a break and if you were at the end of a motion, demand, or other plea during the vacation, you would probably hope that an opponent would give you a break in the final weeks of the year Year. Additionally, maintaining a ceasefire is also right for the parties represented by the attorneys, as clients may also need to do work to respond to requests sent during the holidays and it shouldn’t be done on non-critical matters.
Again, many lawyers understand that people shouldn’t be doing unnecessary work for their opponents on vacation. However, more lawyers should keep a ceasefire, which is not only the right thing to do but can also lead to better outcomes for lawyers and their clients.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm based in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loan. You can reach Jordan by email at [email protected].