I recently attended my local community board monthly meeting (as an observing community member) and I was struck by how much the Second Vice Chair (who runs the meeting) is a stickler for the rules. Actually, all of the executive board members were sticklers for the rules. Nothing in the meeting took place outside the rules-based procedure: from calling the meeting to order to making motions to accept the prior meetings' minutes to counting votes on contested motions. Whenever a question was raised about the precise rule applicable to a proposed action, the Second Vice Chair consulted the community board's book of procedures.
As I yawned through this process (it was a Thursday night after a long week) I was almost annoyed by its tediousness–why does everything have to strictly proceed according to the rules? But then I remembered we live in a nation that was created (and has been governed so far) under the guiding principle known as the rule of law. Obviously, interpreting and applying all the laws that we use to regulate our business transactions, personal relationships, and community interactions necessarily requires a ton of procedural rules.
This is nowhere more true than in litigation. As litigators well know, in order to win your case you have to know which rules apply to the action you are taking (e.g., filing a complaint, making a motion, serving an appellant's brief) so you can carefully follow them. After all, there is nothing more annoying than having your papers rejected by a court clerk–or your argument disposed of by the judge–because you missed a particular rule applicable to you and your client.
I am a huge proponent of creating and following methods for work production in my legal services business (read about the method I use for writing a brief here), so of course I follow a (two-part) method to ensure I am being a tremendous stickler for the rules of litigation procedure.
First, well before I begin reviewing the record or brainstorming my legal arguments, I find and bookmark (on my internet browser) the rules applicable to my appeal, motion, oral argument, or deposition. I'm not saying I read each and every part of every single rule, but I do scan them all because that is the only way to ensure I am not missing an applicable rules; and I carefully read the rules that are clearly relevant to my case (even if I have read them before).
When I am working with a new set of rules–such as the appellate rules in a Circuit Court I have not appeared in before–I often print out the relevant rules and keep them next to my computer while I am working on the case.
Next,I read the applicable rules one level at a time–from the broad state/national rules to the specific local/part/judge rules.
In a federal case that means I read the Federal Rules of (Civil, Appellate, or Bankruptcy) Procedure first; then I read the the Local Rules for the District or Circuit Court in which the case is pending; then I read the Judge or Magistrate's Individual Rules. Also, if the case has been pending for a while, I search the docket for any Case Management Orders, which function as the "case rules." For good measure (especially when I'm preparing for an oral argument), I read the Internal Operating Procedures issued by the court in question (note: not all federal courts have Internal Operating Procedures, but when they do it is chock full of information goodies such as how an appellate panel is selected and the criteria used to decide whether oral argument will take place for a motion/appeal).
In a New York state case, I first read the applicable chapter of the Civil Practice Law and Rules (the famous "CPLR"); then I read the uniform rules applicable to the Supreme Courts, Civil Courts, or Surrogate Courts (as the case may be); then I read the rules of the county in which the case is pending; when necessary, I read the local rules of the Appellate Division or–if it is a commercial or foreclosure case–the Commercial or Foreclosure Part rules; then I read the Judge's part rules and, if it exists, any order regarding case management.
This method might sound like a tedious process but I assure you it will save you time in the long run. Once you get into the habit of reviewing the rules from the broad to the specific, which helps you focus on what rules are applicable at the local level, you will be able to complete a comprehensive review in just a few hours. And when you finish your review you will know you have covered everything: so you won't waste time going back and forth to make sure you didn't miss anything.
Of course, if you are overwhelmed by all the rules and can't bear to think about them another method is to out-source your appeal, substantive motion, oral argument, or deposition to me–I would be delighted to help you navigate your client's case through the sea of rules to the shore of success. Get in touch here to discuss how I can do it.