by Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq.
Little Things Do Matter
When I was young I tried to bake cookies on my own as a surprise for the rest of
the family who were away for a few hours.
Suffice it to say that I had yet to appreciate the difference between t and T as units
of measurement or that baking soda and
baking powder were two entirely different
things. To this day my siblings still refer to
those cookies as “clunkers.” You could have
repaired a cobblestone street with those
things and we still laugh about it. Now, one
might ask “What in the world do clunkers
have to do with the practice of law?” While
the cookies themselves don’t, the lesson
learned that day certainly does. The lesson
learned was that little things often matter
far more than we might realize.
Allow me to share a few examples. A law
firm picked up a significant corporate bankruptcy matter. Well into this representation,
the responsible attorney instructed his competent long-time paralegal on how to disburse funds to a large group of unsecured
creditors. He assumed that the paralegal
understood the significance of the distinction between unsecured creditors whose
claims were being challenged and those
whose claims were not. She didn’t, and no
money was held back to insure that all of
the allowed claims were paid over those
that were not.
An attorney, who relied heavily on case
management software, took on a plaintiff’s
personal injury matter. When these types of
cases reached a certain point, it was this attorney’s practice to click a link in the program that enabled an automated litigation checklist function. This particular matter happened to stall just prior to the point
in time that said link would normally have
been clicked, so the automated litigation
checklist was never enabled. The attorney
was oblivious as a critical filing deadline
came and went.
Another attorney attempted to have
computer-generated papers served on an
individual at a personal residence. Service
failed at the residence. The attorney investigated further, learned of, and verified, an
accurate work address for the individual and
attempted to serve a second time. The papers were reprinted and sent out for service, unfortunately with the old address because the work address was never entered
into the firm’s database and no one double
checked the papers. The deadline ran.
Another common example is where a firm
is the registered agent for a number of client businesses. Suit papers were received
by the assistant and filed in the appropriate client file instead of being forwarded to
the client because no one told the assistant
what to do in this situation.