Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 - Page 26

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 26 the client because no one told the assistant what to do in this situation.