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Most Annoying Part About Learning to Practice Law: Local Rules

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Down in Southern California, when you entered the courtroom, you'd write your client's name on your business card, hand it to the bailiff or clerk, and wait for your case to be called. The procedure was similar in Alameda County criminal court, but with small pieces of paper instead. In Santa Clara County, at least in this one civil court room, there was a sign-up sheet.

None of those methods are particularly egregious. They all get the job done.

Here is another one that caught me by surprise yesterday: tentative rulings. Here, in this fine county, rulings are posted online between 2 and 3 p.m. If you wish to contest that tentative ruling, you have until 4 p.m. to notify both the opposing party and the court, and if you do, everyone gets to show up to court in the morning.

That's buried in the Local Rules of Court, by the way, and is derived from the state rules of civil procedure, which provides two alternatives for local courts to abide by, which they can add to, if, in their own wisdom, they choose to issue tentative rulings. Only certain departments have chosen to make tentative rulings, however, so your judge's practices may vary.

Seriously. How in the new-to-practice hell is a recent graduate supposed to learn this crap? Sure, in magical boom times, there'd be no such thing as a recent grad turned solo, other than a few nutjobs with antisocial tendencies. Today is different.

Many of us are full-time solo after graduating into the worst legal job market of all time. Others are part-time practicing for supplemental income, for practical experience, or simply to help others who can't afford the going rate in the area. There is no "ask the experienced partner" option, at least on a day-to-day basis.

Bottom-line? There has to be a better way than this fragmented, judge-by-judge, court-by-court, county-by-county system of rules. Those of us practicing in California can only pray that the impending switch to electronic filing will somewhat universalize the rules, because no matter where you went to law school, they can't teach you what color post-it notes are required by the judge in Department 36 of the Family Law Division of the North Marin County Courthouse.

Imagine being a pro se litigant. (shudder).

As for my "practical educational experience," the mix-up in the rules won't affect anything substantive. I wasted an hour sitting in a courtroom for no reason, but no harm was done to the case. Still, that's an hour that I can't, in good conscience, bill to the client, nor could I spend it blogging for FindLaw. It did provide a nice rant-topic, however. (See above, below.)

Now I get to make local civil procedure flashcards and bang my head against the desk.

(Got a local rules horror story of your own? Share it with us on Facebook.)

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