Twenty-First Century Fossils
November 27, 2013 § 9 Comments
It’s no secret that lawyers do not reinvent the wheel every time they do a pleading, PSA, will, or other instrument. What happens when a client needs a document in a new matter is that one like it is conjured up from the bowels of the computer hard drive (substitute “Cloud” for hard drive if you need to), the names and personal information are changed, tweaks are made to make it fit the new matter’s particular circumstances, and — voila! — the new document is dispatched into the legal universe to do the task it was designated to do.
This process works quite well as long as the attorney (or staff) is vigilant, but sometimes there are embarrassing glitches.
One obvious problem occurs when not all of the requisite changes are made, creating incongruities that can have consequences ranging from comic to tragic.
The type of problem I would like to address, however, is one that I characterize as “fossilization of the hard drive.” It occurs when lawyers time and again have the same erroneous matter in pleadings, PSA’s, or other documents, and, when (again) brought to their attention the lawyers sheepishly admit the error and promise (again) to fix it. But they don’t. Because that error is saved countless times in other documents on the hard drive, and changing it once does not solve the problem.
A harmless example of what I am talking about is the lawyer in our district whose divorce complaints pled grounds thus: ” … guilty of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment as codiciled in MCA 93-5-1 …” That’s hard to eradicate when it appears in 1,000 other complaints stored — and fossilized — on the hard drive. Every time I called it to his attention, he professed he would fix it. After five years or so, he managed to pull it off somehow.
How do you make sure that, as you catch a flaw in your pleadings, or learn the hard way not to include a particular provision in a PSA, or a case comes down mandating that you change a will provision, that you will get it right next time?
Here is a suggested solution. When you save a complaint, or PSA, or will, always add the month and year when it was done as a suffix to the file name. Example: “Henry PSA 08-13” or “Jackson Divorce Complaint 11-13” or “Reed Tom Will 04-12.” As you refine your pleadings, PSA’s, and probate documents, you save them as the most recent, and then, later, when you need a template, you call up the most recent as the best example that incorporates new innovations and eliminates old errors. That way, the old fossils can repose undisturbed until some 22nd-century legal archaeologist stumbles on them.
There is probably a better way to do this that you have discovered and implemented in the intervening years since I passed on from the practice. If so, you can leave them in a comment or email me.