The Art of Case Management: A Former Judge’s Tool for Mastering Deadlines

By: Mac R. McCoy

I served as a United States Magistrate Judge for eight years in one of the busiest federal district courts in the nation. In that time, I set (and reset) case management deadlines in thousands of civil litigation cases. If I learned anything from that experience on the bench, it is that choosing (and sticking to) case management deadlines is more important to due process and the administration of justice than most lawyers know or appreciate.
The goal in setting realistic and achievable deadlines is, among other things: (1) to ensure due process; (2) to give the parties and the court enough time between key case benchmarks to do what needs to be done to prepare the case for summary judgment or trial; and (3) to avoid as much as possible burdening the court with requests—especially disputed requests—to extend deadlines.
There are many compelling reasons to pay very close attention to setting realistic and achievable case management deadlines and a general judicial bias against modifying deadlines once they are adopted in a scheduling order. Nevertheless, many lawyers appear to give little real thought to their proposed deadlines when submitting them to the court for consideration under Rules 16 and 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—so much so that lawyers would routinely propose deadlines that inconveniently fell on a weekend day or a federal holiday when the court would be closed.
Even though the availability of electronic filing mitigates somewhat the effect of the court being closed, there are still good reasons to avoid selecting deadlines that fall on a weekend or federal holiday. The most compelling of those reasons is that if something goes wrong—e.g., the electronic filing system is not working, you need help figuring out how to file a particular document, or you need a last-minute extension of the deadline due to unforeseen circumstances—no one will be available to help you or grant a motion to extend the filing deadline. Careful consideration of deadlines before they are submitted to and adopted by the court in a scheduling order can spare a litigator considerable burden and stress later in a case. It can also build credibility with the court, while submitting unworkable deadlines can have the opposite effect.

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