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.


§ 9 Responses to Twenty-First Century Fossils

  • […] Larry Primeaux’s blog post today entitled, “Twenty-First Century Fossils,” discusses ““fossilization of the hard drive.” This occurs when, as the Judge […]

  • R. E. Mongue says:

    I created a folder on my hard drive labelled “Templates.” Client work goes into each client’s folder. Only the most recent “clean” documents sit in the template folder. Staff are instructed to only use the template folder for templates and not to write over the template documents with client work. (There is a back-up folder in case the latter rule is broken.) The templates are revised each time a new pertinent rule, statute, or case ruling is promulgated.

  • Bob Wolford says:

    I like this article because this is a pet peeve of mine- recycling the same old forms over and over again. I’ll start off with a “form”, change names and all that, but then I do the unthinkable- I print it out and READ it with pencil in hand, make the necessary corrections and then revise it. Then, I READ it again. For some reason, I catch more stupid mistakes if I read a hard copy than if I read something off my computer screen.

  • thusbloggedanderson says:

    Reviewing some divorce complaints, I found them reciting “both of the Caucasian race.” Another fossil? Or does race have to be pleaded???

    • Larry says:

      That requirement has been eliminated. I don’t recall the year, but I believe it was around 2005. Those are some fine fossils you have there.

    • That one always annoyed me. And, yes, it is a fossil that people are still putting in their pleadings.

      • thusbloggedanderson says:

        Leaving aside the irrelevance of race, “Caucasian” is a relic of 19th-century racial supremacist pseudoscience. It’s really not much more sensible than writing “Aryan.” I think I posted on that on some earlier iteration of my blog, but may need to revive it.

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