The (100) Buck(s) Stops at the Lawyer, but…

I’m thinking about starting a new category for reports of consequences resulting from mistakes in documents filed with courts. Today ABAJournal.com reports that a A Wisconsin lawyer has been fined $100 for getting a citation wrong in a brief submitted to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

The lawyer cited an unpublished case that supposedly upheld a stipulated damages clause in a vending machines contract. But a search for the case based on the name provided by the lawyer turned up a misrepresentation case brought by newlyweds against a wedding photographer.

The cite wasn’t helpful, either. It was listed as “2005 AP 160,” which sent the appeals court to 2005 WI App 160 and another “dead end,” the footnote said. When the court finally found the real case—which had an entirely different name—it learned “2005 AP 160” was the docket number.

“Different name, different citation, different district (District IV) but, as promised, unpublished,” the court said in the footnote.

The reports source, Legal Blog Watch notes both the viral way in which blog post spread and an interesting note on sloppiness:

OK, now there is a small kicker to this story of a sloppy cite. I learned about it from a post this week at WisBlawg. WisBlawg credited its source as Law Librarian Blog. Law Librarian Blog said it got it from Legal Writing Prof Blog. And Legal Writing Prof Blog identified its source as Lisa Mazzie at Marqette.

At where? Yes, it seems that Legal Writing Prof Blog forgot that u-after-q rule and mangled the name of a major law school. That was not the only error in this short Legal Writing Prof Blog post. It identified its quote of the court’s opinion as taken from footnote 5. It then cited the quote as “2008 WI App 160, ¶ 14 n.4.” Was it footnote four or footnote five?

As professionals we must strive to eliminate sloppiness from everything we do in our professionals lives. I encourage my students and all praticing paralegals to maintain professionalism even in emails and other communications that are done at work or relate to work. We cannot be correct 100% of the time. (I now have one kind hearted reader who proofreads most of my posts and emails me when I need to make a correction. Thanks, Lauren. ) but the standards for court pleadings are high as discussed in previous posts here.

In this case, the consequences could have been higher than $100. Not all courts will track down a citation the way this one did. Many will simply not read the case and discount the argument. Afterall, if the case was not important enough for the legal team to get the citation right, it couldn’t be important enough for the judge and her clerk to spend time searching for it.  If the case was not important to the argument, then one wonders why it was being cited at all!

While the lawyer will pay the court imposed penalty, it is likely that any paralegal working on the brief will also suffer some consequences.

The long-term solution is for the legal team to have an established and enforced procedure for cross-checking all citations, and proofreading all documents submitted to the court, other counsel and clients. This solution requires that the office also have a time-management system in place to ensure that work is completed in time for cross-checking and proofreading. Remember the dance!

Now that I’ve finished this I have decided to make a new category for these legal parables: Consequences of Sloppiness is the working title, but I’m open to suggestions.

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