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Solo In Chicago

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

3 Posts in 1...What a Deal!

Watch me seamlessly interweave three separate topics into one post:

  • Supreme Court Rule 711 Abuse;

  • The Importance of Being Detail-Oriented; and,

  • Sloppy, Hand-written, Last-Minute changes to a final Judgment.
The above are mostly all tied to the same incident with one exception. The incident was at its core a simple, dissolution of marriage prove-up hearing. For you non-domestic relations lawyers out there this is the last hearing of a settled dissolution of marriage proceeding (divorce). The hearing itself is some 15 minutes typically where the petitioning party must "prove-up" the grounds or basis for his/her petition and then you walk the judge through the terms of the final Judgment. So although the hearing is quite brief the documents that get entered are very substantive and very important dealing with property division and parenting issues that might be relevant for the next 20 years or so.

First, the Supreme Court Rule 711 Abuse.

Let me say up front that no one's a bigger advocate of clinical experience during law school than I am. My experience at SIU's Elder Law clinic was the most useful part of my legal education and I to this day reference documents and other aspects of that experience. If you have aspirations of building a law practice shortly after law school, get some good clinical experience during law school. BUT, I was very turned off recently when I had one of my appointed contempt clients who was incarcerated and the opposing "lawyer" from the State's Attorney's office was a 711 student. I mean we're talking about a persons very freedom here and I'm dealing with a non-lawyer opposite me. The other situation leads me back to the divorce prove-up. There's a 711 student drafting the final Joint Parenting Agreement in the case. And no surprise when I finally got it sent to me the afternoon before the hearing there are probably 10 things that weren't covered that should have been. Great, have your 711 student come into court and into judge's chambers on pretrial conferences but when we're talking about documents that have critical impact on litigants' lives, how 'bout using the real lawyer.

Second and Third: Be detail-oriented and avoid having sloppy, hand-written judgments entered.

Nothing adds to your value as an attorney more than being EXTREMELY detail-oriented. And ya don't really need law school or any further CLE for this trait. You need to be more thorough and spend more time reviewing documents than your opposing counsel. And it's worth your while. Believe me, I'm not saying to inflate your bills but I am saying to bill more because you're being more thorough. The Joint Parenting Agreement I referenced above gets sent to me late afternoon before a 9am prove-up hearing the next day. So I'm doing a final read on the train heading down to Daley. I must have caught 10 errors and omissions. You must thoroughly scour final judgments!

So in the same case as where there was sloppy 711 abuse, the opposing counsel doesn't complete the case's Judgment and Marital Settlement Agreement until the morning of the hearing. I get my first view of the Judgment at probably 855am for a 9am hearing (no surprise the hearing didn't happen until 11am). And then we're stuck making last-minute hand-written changes. If the case weren't set for trial I would have just said forget it...we'll do this another day and get a proper judgment drafted. I'd estimate that this happens in maybe 25% of final dissolution of marriage judgments. And it causes them to be rife with errors and inconsistencies.

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