We all procrastinate. Even you—yes you, with your wall calendar and your daily planner in your briefcase and your Outlook calendar synched to your phone and Siri shouting reminders at you weeks, days, hours, and minutes before each important deadline. It’s part of the human condition, and not dependent on time management skills. Most of us know how to manage our time; we just don’t follow through. Lawyers do it for more than an hour a day.
Many of us claim we work best under pressure, and what better pressure is there than a big deadline, maybe even a jurisdictional one? And some of us procrastinate by doing other things that need to be done—okay so I have a brief due Monday but I also have research for something next month and I’m working at home and the dishwasher needs to be unloaded; it all needs to get done anyway, so what’s the big deal? (Ooh, look, a stranger is wrong on the Internet, better tend to that first.)
I’m an avoidant procrastinator myself—when there is something I really don’t want to do (usually because it is so very tedious) I avoid doing it in favor of things that are less painful. However, once the deadline creeps up, the deadline becomes the bigger source of stress than the work itself, so I’ll do it.
Some of us (“decisional” procrastinators”) have trouble making up our minds, or worry about a bad decision creating a bad outcome, so we get stuck. Other of us (“arousal”) procrastinators just like the rush and feel like we just work better when we know time is short. Most of us experience various types of procrastination at various points in our lives, or even simultaneously.
Waiting until the last minute to do something can implicate a number of ethical rules. Diligence, of course; but also competence (procrastination can be a sign you’re in over your head), fees (if you end up spinning your wheels due to decisional procrastination, you may be overcharging), and even conflicts of interest (if your desire for the adrenaline rush at deadline supersedes your client’s interest in meeting the deadline). Blown deadlines and shoddy work are both big risks of procrastination.
And, yeah, we’ve all been there, getting things in at the wire. Electronic filing has given us the “gift” of being able to work until midnight (rather than rush to the latest-open nearby post office), but that doesn’t always work as well as we’d like it to. Most of us have had to belatedly ask for or move for an enlargement or worse, fend off a default motion. (Depending on where you are, you may want to think long and hard about whether, if something gets filed by an opposing party a few minutes past a non-jurisdictional deadline, you really want to fight about it.)
Still, a good number of grievances and malpractice claims occur because a statute of limitations or an appeal deadline has been missed. Generally, lawyers try to be much more careful about jurisdictional deadlines, because they know that if they miss those, they’re dead in the water regardless of excuse. We try to build in buffers, for Internet failures or traffic or whatever else.
This is my long-winded wind-up to say recording artist Kanye West’s campaign for President of the United States didn’t give itself a buffer and so far, he’s been kicked off the ballot.
(Note: as this blog is Not About Politics I will not be commenting on the legal or factual merits of the West presidential run or ballot access challenge. I do some election law, and have some friends who are involved, but I have been blessedly uninvolved in the dispute beyond snarking about it on Facebook.)
In any case, for those of you not following TMZ for your political news, Kanye decided at some point to run for president. Despite having weeks to gather signatures to get on the ballot here in Wisconsin, his campaign did so for the two days immediately preceding the 5 p.m. August 4, 2020 deadline. He had the assistance of counsel, who was observed entering the Wisconsin Elections Commission building at what was likely shortly after 5 p.m. to drop off the nomination forms. She then had to go to the third floor, number the pages, and hand them in. And, because this is the Year of our Lord 2020 and we are in Wisconsin, a debate over “what is time and has it come today?” ensued. The Commission found that Kanye was a few minutes too late, and the court to which that decision was appealed discussed the judge’s personal experience in buying booze from a liquor store at 9 pm and then held that “basically, 5 o’clock is 5 o’clock.“ (Insert tired “late registration” joke here.)
I get that when a deadline is short—either because you’ve procrastinated to this point of having to get 2,000 signatures in 48 hours, or because the task itself involves a short turnaround by statute or court order—you will naturally want to use as much time as you reasonably can to do your job well. But still, this was all avoidable by showing up 10 minutes earlier. You really don’t want to put yourself in a place where you are arguing about whether a 5 p.m. jurisdictional deadline means 5 o’clock and 14 seconds is okay or not. It’s not a Good Life.