When you get a new case, you’ll be focused on legal theories and general procedural rules, but don’t forget that the practice of law is local and knowing about the court’s local rules and required forms is critical to your case going smoothly.
The Judicial Council of California establishes rules of court and forms that apply throughout the state. In some instances, the Judicial Council has preempted local rules as to the “form and format of papers to be filed in the trial courts,” but preemption is not universal.
This means that every attorney should check and follow local rules and forms. Not complying with local rules could result in sanctions or contempt. Thankfully, the Judicial Council has made it much easier to find and follow local rules by posting them by county on their website.
So, when you’re handling an unfamiliar matter or proceeding in a new venue first check the Judicial Council rules and then review the local rules to make sure you comply with all possible requirements.
Once you’ve identified the relevant rules, don’t forget to check for necessary local forms. For example, in Alameda County, using ADR allows you to delay your case management conference if you file the proper local stipulation with the court.
Unfortunately, there’s no regularly updated resource for local forms, so you’ll have to confirm that you have the correct form from the court itself. Start with the court’s website to find local forms and then confirm by calling the court if you’re not sure the website is up-to-date; sadly, with resources tight, some court’s websites aren’t reliably updated.
Don’t lose the trees for looking at the forest: keep an eye on sometimes critical local rules and forms because missing them could put your client at a disadvantage and leave you looking like you didn’t do your homework.
For everything you need to know about filing court papers, turn to CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chapter 11, which reminds you when to check for local rules and forms.
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