First Week at the Firm: How to Handle Your Court's Local Rules

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Welcome to First Week at the Firm, a FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

Sure, in law school you studied the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, probably criminal procedure, too. You might have even seen some state rules on ethics or jurisdiction. But nothing beats local rules.

Local rules are the court-specific rules governing your practice in a particular jurisdiction and you likely never really learned about them until you started practicing. These rules matter, though -- controlling everything from where to file your suit to how to move for summary judgment. Here's how to handle them:

Get to Know Your Local Rules

One of the reasons law schools generally ignore local rules is because, well, they're extremely local. What is required in civil federal court in Austin won't have much to do with the state criminal court down the street, for example. This means that if your firm practices in multiple courts and jurisdictions, you're going to have to familiarize yourself with multiple local rules.

The easiest way to do this is to search online. All court websites have a relevant section on the local rules that will apply. Get them under your belt -- or on your feet, if you're in Blackford County, Indiana, where local rules dictate your sock choices. Simply spending some time at a court can also be helpful, allowing you to speak to court clerks and other lawyers about the rules and procedures of the court -- and to get some gossip about its judges.

Remember, though, the local rules supplement state or federal rules, they don't replace them. You'll need to keep both in mind as you practice.

Reference the Rules at Every Step

Not knowing the local rules can end up costing you. Take, for example, a nasty malpractice suit between the law firm Dickstein Shapiro and Encyclopedia Britannica -- you know, the paper version of Wikipedia your grandparents had to use. When Britannica thought Dickstein Shapiro missed a discovery deadline, it filed for sanctions.

That earned Britannica a serious bench slap -- not only had they got the deadline wrong, Britannic's lawyers had ignored local rules in Washington, D.C., which require a lawyer to confer with opposing counsel before moving for sanctions. The cost? Covering all of Dickstein Shapiro's costs in responding to the sanctions motion. Had they simply looked through the court's local rules before filing their motion, they could have prevented those costs -- and the embarrassment.

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