Lawyers should try not to submit documents at the last moment


Small law firms

Many lawyers, like many other professionals, often procrastinate on all kinds of tasks in our professional lives. Sometimes, lawyers put things off until the last minute because they have other pressing issues that need to be addressed, and other times, they put off working on things because they don’t have the mental energy to deal with a particular issue at a particular time. Because many courts accept submissions until midnight on the day they are due, attorneys also routinely procrastinate and wait until late at night to submit documents before the deadline. However, there are many reasons why lawyers should avoid submitting documents at the last minute if at all possible.

Perhaps the biggest reason lawyers avoid filing documents close to the deadline is that technical issues may need to be addressed at the last minute which can make it difficult to submit the document on time. The filing systems themselves break down routinely, and it is a running joke in the jurisdiction in which I practice that the filing system breaks down more often than it is. Failure of filing systems is usually not the biggest problem since most courts have an email address to which files can be sent in emergency circumstances or some other system in place to handle the situation.

Even scarier is when a lawyer runs into a personal technical problem near the deadline. This has happened many times in my career, but one particularly scary situation was the worst ever. When I was a partner at Biglaw, a group of attorneys and I were working on an appeal that had to be submitted by a specific deadline. We used Word documents to pass edits on to each other and the last draft will be saved as a new document edited by the team.

At approximately 8 PM before the midnight filing deadline, the version of Word containing the abstract was corrupted. We couldn’t open the document the normal way, and when we tried to view the data in the document, there were a bunch of strange symbols in the file instead of words. This panicked our team, and we had to react quickly to the situation. Out of desperation, we opened up an earlier version of the feed and made every edit we could remember to that file. We then finalized everything and got the document in time to meet the deadline. The whole situation was very stressful and the prospect of a technical failure convinced me that no one should submit documents too close to the deadline in case something happens.

Another reason lawyers try not to file documents too soon before the deadline is because the time crunch can affect the work product that the lawyer produces. There are some people who thrive on pressure and believe that they do their best work when they are under pressure. However, most of us would agree that anyone can produce their best work when they have time to think about their work product and make several rounds of edits in the days leading up to the filing deadline.

Once, I received a job from a client who needed to deliver something in two days. Normally, it takes me a week or more to prepare the file that I need to complete for a client. I worked hard over the next 48 hours putting together the best working product I could get my hands on, but the papers weren’t as good as they could have been if I took my time and went over everything over several days until all the papers were perfect.

People may disagree with me on this, but there is also an element of courtesy to bringing things in well before the deadline. If attorneys submit their papers close to midnight, most electronic filing systems operated by courts will send an email to all parties notifying them that the papers have been submitted. This can infringe on people’s personal time, since many lawyers may want to log into their online accounts as soon as something is submitted to see what is going on. I remember going out one time late at night when I got a notice that an opponent had made a motion for summary judgment. When someone left to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t resist restoring the file on my phone so I could see what my opponent had submitted. Of course, sympathy for adversaries is rarely a motivator for lawyers, and people can have greater discipline about work-life balance, but not intruding on personal time is another reason why lawyers submit documents well in advance of deadlines.

However, as long as the courts accept documents until midnight, there will be parties that file their papers closer to this deadline. However, there are many reasons why you should submit documents well in advance of the deadline if at all possible.

Jordan Rothman Partner Rothman Law FirmA full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also a founder Student Debt Diary, a website discussing how to pay off his student loans. You can reach Jordan via e-mail at


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