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The Fight Over Where We Meet And Other Mundane Madness

By Charles F. Vuotto, Jr., Esq.

As practitioners, we know that it is easy to get sidetracked and dwell on issues that are mundane instead of meaningful to the client. Those situations do nothing to move the litigation forward and oftentimes worsen the animosity between parties, and even between counsel. Taking the high ground is not just a slogan; it should be a basic tenet of the civility in the practice of law.

Everyone has experienced the following situation on at least one occasion: In the course of representing a client in a matrimonial action, you and your adversary agree that a four-way settlement conference may be helpful. You are the first to offer your office as the location for the meeting along with suggested dates. Your adversary responds by selecting one or more dates and, notwithstanding your initial invitation to use your office, he insists that the meeting must occur at his office. You discuss the issue with your client and make the wise choice not to fight over where the initial meeting occurs, but you explain to your adversary that in fairness, if multiple office meetings are to occur, they should be alternated between your respective offices.

The next meeting is scheduled and your adversary objects to coming to your office.

Sometimes, the objection is that your office is out-of-county or your office is further from

the courthouse than is his office. Sometimes, he argues that his client does not want to pay for him to travel to your office (although it is perfectly fine for your client to pay for all of your travel for every meeting). Sometimes, your adversary provides no explanation whatsoever. Simply put, unless there are very good reasons (not the ones I just mentioned), this mundane madness should stop. It is neither professional nor courteous. It is quite common for each attorney’s office to be different distances from the courthouse. It is often common for certain attorneys to practice out-of-county. Further, simply because one party does not want to incur the cost of his or her attorney traveling, should not be a basis to insist that all meetings occur in one attorney’s office. Although the wisest choice may be to just to concede the issue and move on, no attorney should be placed in that situation.

Common courtesy and professionalism dictate that if multiple office meetings are going to occur in a case, those meetings should be alternated unless there is a very good reason to do otherwise. Very good reasons do not include that one’s office is in county or closer to the court house, or that that attorney’s client simply does not want to bear the costs of his or her attorney traveling. A good reason may be that one attorney’s office does not have adequate conference room space, or that both parties find one office more convenient than the other. In the latter case, shouldn’t both parties share the cost of the traveling attorney?

These issues create unnecessary litigation costs for parties. Although it would be nice if these of issues need not be discussed and written about, the reality is that these mundane disputes occur from time to time and are counter-productive to the resolution of our client’s cases.

There are other examples of mundane madness that clog up attorney time. For example, I have heard of disputes about simultaneous exchanges of case information statements, or who goes first for taking a deposition, or arguing about a nominal amount of unreimbursed medical expenses when the costs of attorney time are quadruple the contested amounts.

These mundane disputes brings to mind the fight over the size and shape of the table to be used at the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.The table debate went on for a long while, and the various proposals were well-documented in the press. The North Vietnamese wanted a big circular table, where all the parties had a seat. The South Vietnamese wanted a big rectangular table, so that both sides would face each other. The toughest issue was that Saigon and the Vietcong wouldn’t sit at the same table. They ended up with North and South sitting at a circular table, with the other parties (Vietcong, US) having smaller square tables around the periphery.[i] Let’s hope that we never stoop so low. To quote a great American philosopher (Rodney King), “Can’t we all just get along?”


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