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With Midnight Extension, Judge Tells Associates Their Lives Suck

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 18, 2015 12:57 PM

It's no big news that many associates are overworked, staying in the office too long and too late in an effort to plow through their high workload and make their billable hour quotas. Most associates are familiar with working on a brief or filing until the very last minute before a deadline, which, now that documents can be filed online, is often the last second before midnight.

Generally, associates grin and bear it while the rest of the legal world looks away. That's not the case in one Ohio federal courtroom. When two associates in an antitrust case asked for a midnight extension, a federal judge decided this was a good chance to turn the request into a "teachable moment." The lesson? Man, your lives really suck.

Just 15 More Minutes, I Promise!

Facing a midnight deadline to submit their opposition to a motion for summary judgment, the lawyers at Florida law firm Kenny Nachwalter sought a 15 minute extension. They filed their motion for an extension at 12:02 AM and promised that their brief would be submitted by 12:15. They were actually three minutes late even with the extended deadline. As always, the culprit was "technical issues."

Their request left the Court a bit miffed. Judge Jack Zouhary, in his order granting the extension, posed some rhetorical questions for the attorneys in the case. Why wait "until the eleventh hour" when the deadline has long been established? "What message is being sent," when a filing is "rushed in at the last minute?"

Back in My Day...

That's where the beauty begins. "In the old days," Judge Zouhary states, runners would have to dash out to make evening filing deadlines -- running up hill, both ways! These new fangled technologies, however, have destroyed all that. Now, Judge Zouhary notes, lawyers are "literally 'burning the midnight oil.'" After explaining how things worked back in the good old days, Judge Zouhary granted the request.

The judge was correct to note that this situation serves as a "sad commentary on the life of today's law firm associates." Highly skilled professionals, from lawyers to doctors to bankers, are often expected to work miserably long hours at the start of their careers. Those hours have led many to burn out, others to sue, and some, perhaps, to die.

Some companies have finally started to take action to reduce workloads. For example, after a 22-year-old Goldman Sachs analyst died after complaining of 100-hour work weeks, the company has finally taken baby steps towards reducing hours. For example, the company intends to stop interns from working overnight. Maybe some law firms will follow suit.

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