Friday, March 20, 2015

Late Lawyers (and Other Musings)

New York City’s embattled, progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, has in rapid order acquired a bit of a reputation for failing to arrive on time. His tardy tendencies have even launched a new cottage industry in the press, the “De Blasio was Late Again” outrage-of-the-day story.

Late the for a St. Patrick’s Day mass. Late for a plane crash memorial service. Late to a police officer’s wake. Late for an event in his own home. Gosh, even late in responding to a snowstorm.

Naturally, the most civic minded among the journalistic order have taken it upon themselves to be solution-oriented. Thus, we are not surprised at the inevitable spawning of a sub-genre of well-intentioned suggestions for the Mayor, such as How Not to Be Late: A Self-Help Guide for Bill de Blasio.

There is even a Bill de Blasio Lateness Excuse Generator (pictured above), where technology meets tardy, and perpetually late landers can have appropriate mayoral excuses created for immediate use on virtually any occasion.

Now back home, here in the legal profession, lateness can be serious business, particularly in America.

A repeat-offending Texas lawyer was suspended this past January for being 30 minutes late in filing a death penalty stay petition. In 2008, a Los Angeles defence attorney was jailed for two days after arriving late for a sixth time at court. Sanctions and fines were the fate of a “punctuality-challenged” Bronx defence lawyer in 2007.

The Canadian attitude toward tardy lawyers is, predictably, somewhat more measured. As noted by Robert Bell and Caroline Abela in a 2009 paper for the Advocates Society, A Lawyer’s Duty to the Court:

Being late for court, although highly irritating and a waste of time, is generally not conduct that is considered egregious and neglectful of a lawyer’s obligation. However, in our view, tardiness is a breach of a lawyer’s duty to the courts because it, among other things, causes delay and disruption to the court process. Tardiness effects the administration of justice. For example, in LSUC v. Ducas, the Law Society hearing panel found, inter alia, that the lawyer had breached his duty to the court by appearing 25 minutes late for his own motion by which time the motion had been dismissed.
In fact, recent rulings in Ontario make it clear that even the bench must avoid precipitous action in the face of tardy counsel.

For example, note the 2014 case of Justice of the Peace Alfred “Bud” Johnston:

The Justices of the Peace Review Council upheld two complaints against the Old City Hall JP: that he was “arrogant and sarcastic” when courier Alexander Leaf appeared before him without a lawyer on Nov. 22, 2012 to fight a charge of driving with a handheld device; and that he abused his position by dismissing an afternoon session of 68 charges on Dec. 4, 2012 because the prosecutor was one minute and 10 seconds late.

Similarly, in 2012, Ontario Court Justice Howard Chisvin was reprimanded by an Ontario Judicial Council panel for summarily dismissing 33 charges for “want of prosecution” after a Crown was briefly late in returning from a recess:

The prosecutor, Brian McCallion, had been preparing for one of the cases by reading a psychiatric report on one of the accused people and didn’t hear several pages for him.

Court records show that after court had reconvened, the judge waited all of one minute and 27 seconds before throwing out the entire docket.

Now, to be clear, your faithful writer has perhaps also had the “occasional” tardy moment. This is by no means a point of pride. It might, however, inform the interest with which I view these developments in mayoral, lawyerly and judicial timeliness.

For late-at-heart lawyers, I am glad to note there remains hope when confronted with the challenge of improving time management in an era of of Too Little Time.
 Via Good Housekeeping writer Frances Lefkowitz: 
WHY YOU’RE IN THIS FIX: “There are so many misconceptions about lateness,” says time-management consultant [Diana] DeLonzor. Top false assumptions: People who are late are inconsiderate, selfish, controlling, lazy, or looking for attention. In fact, many people who run late have trouble accurately judging time and thus underestimate how long things will take. Psychologists call this the planning fallacy — and it’s part of being human. “We have an idealized version of how things go,” explains Steel, “and we edit out how much time things actually require.” Chronically late people fall prey to the planning fallacy in spades, misjudging the time needed even for things they do regularly, like fixing breakfast or driving to work. Call her optimistic, idealistic, or unrealistic, but if a person who tends to run late once got to work in 19 minutes — on a good traffic morning, catching all green lights — she assumes she can bank on this swift journey every day. “Late people time things exactly, according to the best-case scenario — but of course the world doesn’t work that way,” says DeLonzor… 
SIMPLE WAYS OUT: First, confront your magical thinking with cold, hard facts: Spend a week timing your daily tasks — what DeLonzor calls “relearning to tell time.” Once you know how long it really takes to shower, get the kids dressed, and feed the dog, you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Second, always plan to arrive early, factoring 15 extra minutes into every trip. Chances are you’ll end up on time; in the worst-case scenario, you’ll have a few minutes to relax, get a drink of water, and fix your hair. Like Hall, late people often view time spent waiting as time wasted. But if you carry a book, knitting, or your cell phone, you can use a few extra minutes productively. Finally, have a strategy for each day. “A lot of people with time-management issues don’t have a clear sense of how their day is going to pan out,” says DeLonzor. So make a list, with your revamped time estimates written next to each item. Then you’ll be able to tell if you’ve scheduled 30 hours’ worth of activity into a 24-hour day.
Today’s tip logically follows. Address any tendencies toward lateness by taking a hard look at your time management.  In particular, assess the accuracy of your estimates about the time required to complete tasks and to get from point A to B.

That is worth thinking about.

As they say, better late than never.

(Cross Posted at Slaw-Tips)

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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