What a client should do if an attorney missed a court deadline

In civil and family law cases in Maryland, the court issues a Schedule Order that contains deadlines. For example, a Scheduling Order in a divorce case has deadlines for the parties to designate expert witnesses, complete discovery, complete mediation, and file a Joint Property Statement (Md. Rule 9-207 Statement) and a Pre-Trial Statement. The Scheduling Order in a civil case has similar deadlines.

If a client discovers that his or her attorney has not complied with the deadlines imposed by the Schedule Order, the client should take the following steps. He or she should ask the attorney to answer the following important questions in writing:(1) Why did the attorney miss the deadline? (2) Why didn’t the attorney request an extension from the court before the expiration of the deadline? and (3) Will the client’s case be prejudiced by missing the deadline?

If the client is not satisfied with the attorney’s responses, the client should retain new counsel.

The attorney’s missing of a deadline might be a clue that the attorney’s ability to practice law is impaired by mental health issues, alcoholism, or substance abuse. Other signs that your attorney’s ability to practice law is impaired include not arriving on time in court, cancelling appointments at the last minute, using undisclosed medical issues as an excuse, and behaving in an erratic manner.

A 2016 study found that attorneys suffer a high rate of alcohol and substance abuse as well as mental health problems. See “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns among American Attorneys” published in the February 2016 issue of Journal of Addiction Medicine. A sample of 12,825 licensed attorneys completed surveys that assessed their alcohol and drug use as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In terms of alcohol abuse, 36% of the lawyers in the study were rated as problematic drinkers versus only 15% for physicians. As for drug abuse (both prescription and illicit), almost a quarter of the lawyers fell into the severe (0.1%), substantial (3%) or intermediate (21%) range of drug abuse. In the past 12 months, the attorneys reported the following drug usage rates: sedatives (16%), marijuana (10%), opioids (6%); stimulants (5%); and cocaine (1%).

The news get worse. Although 21% of lawyers reported a drinking or substance abuse problem, only 7% of this group had ever sought help for alcohol or substance abuse.

The study also found that attorneys reported elevated levels of mental health issues. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of the lawyers reported experiencing mild or higher levels of depression; 19% had mild or higher levels of anxiety; and 23% had mild or higher levels of stress.

Practice pointer for clients: It is absolutely critical that during the selection process of your attorney and during the representation by your attorney that you watch for signs that your attorney has an alcohol, drug abuse, or mental health issue. Such signs include erratic behavior, not returning phone messages, missing deadlines, appointments, and court appearances, and being evasive regarding the status of your case.

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