Wednesday, February 1, 2023
The Third Circuit has been in my news feed this week. Chief Judge Michael Chagares has proposed to roll back the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' filing deadlines from 11:59 pm to 5:00 pm. The offered justification for the proposal? Work-life balance.
But of course. The child of self-preservation, work-life balance has become a go-to intrinsic good. (What would our grandparents have to say about this, I wonder?) Unfortunately, citing this popularized concept can also stifle discourse. Who can argue with the hallowed and lofty buzzphrase of "work-life balance"?
I offer a counterpoint: autonomy. This is the intrinsic good we should promote in filing deadlines and much else in the legal profession.
Consider junior associates with very little autonomy over their work and schedules. They want to know their contributions are valuable, but they don't have the time or autonomy to add value where they already have a leg up in subject matter expertise. Consider mid-level associates hammering out tricky (or mundane) legal issues in dispositive briefing, all while partners and clients and ping ping ping their phones and inboxes. Consider working parents who have afternoon pickups and family frivolity to breathe life into their days between leaving the office and opening up their laptops before bed.
All of us need autonomy in our work. Work-life balance requires flexibility and autonomy, not harsh--even jurisdictional--cutoffs. Autonomy gives people freedom to work at quieter hours of the day. For me, that is often past 7 pm. For others, it may be early in the morning. The less harried we are, the more careful and thoughtful we can be. Midnight filing deadlines give us breathing room to review commas and tables of authorities one more time. And autonomy breeds creativity, which clients value and the legal profession needs to solve complex problems.
Moreover, the Third Circuit proposal appears to create a problem that does not exist. In a 2018 study of federal docket filings, only one in ten docket entries in federal courts occurred after 5 p.m., and only one in twenty occurred after 6 p.m. Most attorneys apparently file documents before 5 p.m., meaning the work-life balance concern is a minor one in federal courts.
But for all of us who prize autonomy and crave its attendant flexibility in our practice--which transcends life and work stages--the midnight filing deadline is a gift. We should not easily release it.
The Court is accepting public comments on its proposal until February 18, 2023.