Tip Re: Court Clerks

Court Clerks: Your lifeline to the wonderful words: FILING ACCEPTED.

I have a few tips that help my filings go as smoothly as possible – maybe this will help you, too?  Here is what I do:

Filing with a new court you are not familiar with can be confusing, time consuming, and often unsuccessful.  I first call the court and make contact with the clerk: ask their name, make it personal, and ask how their day is going.  I try to ease into requesting the information I need, rather than immediately and abruptly asking what I need to do to file XYZ, and make sure it is not rejected.

Starting off negatively gets you nowhere.  Rather, I always introduce myself and explain that I am not familiar with your local forms or procedures, so I am calling to make sure I understand the correct procedure before filing, which will hopefully make your life easier.  At which point they are almost always willing to help, as long as you are not asking for legal advice.

I repeatedly say thank you and let them know that I appreciate their help.

After successfully making contact with a clerk, I make a note of which department, courtroom, division, etc., the clerk handles, for future contact should I need to contact that clerk again with another issue or in another matter.  You have already made a friendly contact in that court.  But do not stop there.  I also follow up later in the case with the same clerk to make sure I haven’t missed anything that might be required.  Unless you are familiar with that court, chances are you may have missed something.  For example, some courts have their own additional forms that may be required, such as the Santa Barbara Superior Court has the “Addendum to Civil Case Cover Sheet” that must be filed in addition to the Civil Case Cover Sheet. As another example, I had one “Petition for Probate” rejected because the “Notice of Hearing” was not submitted at the same time. Another court rejected the “Petition for Probate” because the Order for Probate and Letters were submitted at the same time. Just to avoid any errors, calling ahead of time will help in the end.

These tips should apply to all courts you contact, even your local courts.

Getting documents filed the first time is beneficial to everyone; your attorney, your client, the court, and you, and accepted filings on the first try helps move things along and prevents unnecessary delays.  Filings that are accepted can take weeks to process, and a rejected filing can increase that time by months.  We are all aware that with what happened during COVID most courts are understaffed.  The last thing they want to do is continually reject filings, which is just more work for them, especially when they need to put an explanation as to why is rejected.  I truly do not believe they enjoy rejecting documents.  As legal professionals, we should do our best to familiarize ourselves with each court’s requirements by communicating with court clerks, reading the local rules, reviewing the court’s website, and making every effort to submit filings that will be ACCEPTED, as opposed to REJECTED!

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