The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
The decision handed down last week by the California Court of Appeals, Fifth District, in Henderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Slip Op No. F058002 (August 5, 2010) is lengthy but educational reading. Maybe it should be required reading for all new litigators. The litigation hot mess created by an attorney who waited until the last minute to prepare key documents and rather spectacularly failed to supervise a paralegal can be summarized in a dozen or so sentences.
Plaintiff’s “counsel went ‘all in’ on a bad bet” (the Court’s short but apt description).
He waited until the last minute to start working on documents opposing defendant’s summary judgment motion.
He assigned the preparation of the documents to a paralegal, albeit one who had just passed the bar exam. The deadline to file the documents fell on a Monday.
On the Thursday before the due date – also the day before the paralegal was scheduled to leave the state for an Alaskan cruise – she took the documents, along with most of the case file, home with her to finish.
That Friday the attorney received a 7:00 a.m. voice mail from his paralegal, stating her computer had crashed, and “she took the entire file with her on the cruise.” (At this point, had I been the supervising attorney, I would have probably keeled over from a heart attack.)
The paralegal’s message added that she had arranged to have the documents emailed to an attorney service which would file the documents on Monday, the due date.
On that Monday, the attorney service advised plaintiff’s counsel the documents were never received, and the superior court clerk also confirmed they were not filed.
The paralegal had no cell phone access on the cruise.
In a nutshell, after the due date, plaintiff’s counsel attempted to rectify the situation, and so did the paralegal – from a Canadian magistrate’s office – but the Court found that none of the subsequent filings were timely, and none of the attorney’s excuses acceptable – and entered summary judgement against the plaintiff. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision.
I think this case offers a number of valuable lessons for both attorneys and paralegals, including not waiting until the last minute to prepare documents which could make or break your case.
But I think the most important lesson for paralegals is not to step foot on that cruise ship until you have guaranteed that any work you are responsible for is in your supervising attorney’s hands.
I can’t help but think that had to be the worst Alaskan cruise ever.