Deadlines in the Law Are Always Critical
When you are involved in litigation – either willingly or unwillingly, either as the plaintiff who initiated the suit, or as a defendant dragged into court – time is always critical. You will have deadlines for every single thing that you do. These deadlines are either:
- obvious, explicit deadlines set forth and given to you by a court “Scheduling Order;”
- less obvious but just as explicit deadlines established by either your state’s Rules of Civil Procedure or your own court’s “Local Rules;” or
- not obvious or explicit – but implied by the fact that there is a date set for trial.
Deadlines: Explicit or Implicit
Courts will often create what is called a “scheduling order” which puts down the times by which times must be completed. You have to count back the days to figure out when you need to get started. For example, if the court sets April 30 as the date by which discovery must be completed, if you’re in Missouri you figure everything out in this way. Parties get 30 days to respond to discovery – they will object to everything, and you must send them a “good-faith” letter before filing a motion to compel. They get 5 business days to respond to a motion to compel, and it will take you 10 days to write one. Therefore, you must serve your last discovery 30 + 5 + 10 + a week for the good-faith letter + any time added by the Mailbox Rule + the amount of time the court will give them to give you the discovery. That means you need to file your last discovery at least 3 months before the end of the discovery period. In that example, you had one explicit courrt-imposed deadline, and several other “implied” deadlines in order to get it done.
One of Your First Steps
Your very first step as a litigant must be to find out what rules control your case – and most specially what rules control the deadlines in your case. When it comes to missing a deadline, excuses are for losers. If you’ve missed a deadline, you must make your excuse and hope for the best! But never forget that there is a price to pay. You lose ground, either legally or in the eyes of the court and the other side, for every deadline you miss. You also add extreme stress to your life and risk to your case if you are always near and sometimes miss deadlines. I cannot make that any plainer, can I?
And another thing to keep in mind: time may be the cross on which your case could die, but it has two other aspects: organization and discipline. Find out what you need to do and when you need to do it. Then set up things so that you can do what you’re supposed to do (organization) and then, actually do it (discipline).
Having read this, you have no excuse for coming to me (or anybody) and saying that you didn’t know when something was due.
Why Time is So Important
Why is time so critically important to everybody, and most particularly to pro se parties? Let’s answer the second question – the most important one – first: why it matters above all to you.
Pro se parties in general, and specially in debt cases, must understand the way time works in their cases more than anyone else for three reasons:
- your actual lack of resources;
- your perceived lack of resources;
- and your actual and perceived lack of experience.
The added “kicker” in debt cases is that you are maving into a headwind caused by the fact that so few people (represented by lawyers or not) defend debt cases with intelligence. Everybody expects you to “roll over” or, as the Beatles song goes, “get back to where you once belonged”
Actual Lack of Resources
Most debt defendants or people involved in debt-related litigation (as, for example, filing a claim for violation of the FDCPA where you are the plaintiff) simply do not have very much money. This type of law, in general, was designed for people without much money, and that’s a problem that many, but not all, pro se parties face. An actual lack of resources means that you have to scramble to get the things you need, from law books to typing paper, from trips to the library to trips to the court room. And daycare – to mention just a few resources that may not be readily available to you. To offset these actual resources you must schedule time enough to overcome them.