Written by: Steven J. Lane, Herman, Herman & Katz
NOBA Family Law Committee Chair
In order to insure that I know what hearings, deadlines, conferences, meetings, etc. I need to address, I have five calendars that I keep so that I never miss a deadline, a court appearance, or any other obligation.
I keep a paper calendar a la 1960. I keep a calendar in my phone and on my computer. My paralegal, my legal assistant, and my associate also have calendars.
Once a month, I meet with my staff and we compare calendars to make sure that we are all in sync as regards any obligations that I need to meet. In 40 years of practice, I have never missed a deadline; forgotten about a meeting or conference; nor let a case prescribe. I attribute this to the fact that I personally have several calendars and I have at least three staff members who have calendars.
There is no excuse for missing a deadline or a meeting/appearance, and there is little or no defense to a law suit from a former client claiming that their rights were lost or jeopardized because you either missed a deadline or did not attend a hearing or other function.
Although it doesn’t happen frequently, I have been finding a greater number of cases in which the opposing party is a pro se litigant. Although you might think that it’s easier for you to handle a case against a non-lawyer, there are often other problems posed by a pro se litigant that would not exist if the litigant was represented by an attorney.
First off, I never rely on oral conversations when discussing a case or attempting to come to an agreement with a pro se litigant. Immediately after any telephone conversation, I reconfirm the substance of our discussions in a letter or e-mail. You cannot put yourself in the position of allowing a pro se litigant to represent to the trial judge that you said, did, or promised anything verbally, especially when such was not the case. That is why you need to be careful to communicate with pro se litigants in writing.
In addition, be aware that a judge may bend over backwards to accommodate a pro se litigant, especially at trial. For the most part, lay people do not know the rules of evidence; the Code of Civil Procedure; the Code of Professionalism; or any other aspect of the legal profession. Although every judge handles their cases differently, my observation has been that judges will give extended leeway to pro se litigants even if it is only to insure that a judgment in your client’s favor cannot be overturned because the trial judge stringently applied procedural and evidentiary rules to a litigant who does not know any better.
I hope that this series of articles has been helpful to you in your practice. If there are any other issues or questions that you want addressed, please do not hesitate to contact the New Orleans Bar Association.
Steven J. Lane
Chairman, Family Law Committee
New Orleans Bar Association