For the past 22 years, the Committee on the Supreme Court of the New York County Lawyers Association (“NYCLA”) has published its annually updated Attorneys’ Guide to Civil Practice in the New York County Supreme Court (the “Attorneys’ Guide”) which is an exceptional guide book covering all aspects of litigating in New York County. And once again the 23rd edition of the Attorneys’ Guide does not disappoint. It is required reading and should be part of every New York County litigator’s library, whether in hard copy or digitally stored on a smart phone, tablet or laptop computer. As one of the editors, Tim Beeken of Debevoise & Plimpton, points out “For each year’s edition, our small editorial team of New York County Supreme Court personnel and outside practitioners spends months reviewing courthouse practices, new and amended rules, and judicial assignments and biographies to ensure the new edition is accurate and up-to-date when published.”
From the Introduction, which addresses recent developments in e-filing, changes to settlement of cases and the new case management system, to the Appendices, which provide useful information related to judicial assignments as well as court rules and court forms, the Attorneys’ Guide provides a roadmap for the litigation process through concise summaries starting with the commencement of the action up to and including trial and all stops in between.
“The utility of the Attorneys’ Guide was evident from the first time I read it” says Craig S. Kesch, co-chair of NYCLA’s Committee on the Supreme Court and a partner at Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer LLP. Mr. Kesch says that “there is valuable guidance in here for everyone” from the newly-minted attorney to the seasoned practitioner.
Naturally enough, the Attorneys’ Guide begins with the commencement of the lawsuit and the filing of the Request for Judicial Intervention (“RJI”). In addition to providing step by step advice on how to commence an action either electronically or in hard copy, the Attorneys’ Guide includes useful reminders on font size in a summons (no less than 12 point), how to file under seal and fees associated with each commencement document. The brief summary on RJIs in Commercial Division cases advises on the timing when seeking assignment to the Commercial Division as well as what information must be included in the RJI and Commercial Division Addendum to ensure such assignment. There is even a section regarding the Structured Settlement Protection Act, which reminds us that any application involving the transfer of structured settlements in exchange for a lump-sum payment is commenced by way of a special petition.
Subsequent chapters address the various subtleties of electronic filing and practicing in New York County. For example, it is critical for every lawyer to understand how a proposed order to show cause motion is submitted in an e-filed case, and the Attorneys’ Guide offers a concise primer on how to file and what to expect from the Clerk’s office in response. Another section explains the process of how to seal a document in a pending e-filed case. Information such as this, explained clearly in such a way that the practitioner can understand the nuances of these types of filings, allows each lawyer to focus on the substance of their case without getting tripped up by the mechanics of e-filing. The chapter on the Commercial Division contains all the information necessary to understand what types of cases can be assigned to the Commercial Division and how to ensure that your case will be properly assigned there. This type of information is invaluable when developing a litigation strategy and will ultimately make each lawyer with access to this book more comfortable making decisions that affect the outcome of the case.
Next up, the Attorneys’ Guide provides detailed information about judicial assignments and insight into how the various court offices and County Clerk’s office function. While such information may seem rudimentary on its face, it is extremely valuable and will save lawyers significant time should the need arise to contact one of the various offices.The explanation on judicial assignments is helpful for lawyers to understand from the outset in which Individual Assignment Parts their particular case can be adjudicated. Cases are assigned by the case type designated on the RJI, so a lawyer is wise to choose the correct case type to ensure that it is routed to one of the Justices designated to handle such cases. There is a section highlighting the differences between the five support or “back offices” along with the clerk in charge of each particular office and their respective phone numbers. (These five offices are the General Clerk’s Office (formerly the Motion Support Office), Matrimonial Support Office, Ex Parte Office, Commercial Division Support Office and the Guardianship and Fiduciary Support Office.) The functions of the County Clerk’s office are also clearly delineated and explained. Within this section, the Attorneys’ Guide offers thorough explanations on the entry of judgments in e-filed cases as well as how to subpoena a file to the Appellate Division. Such information is extremely helpful for practitioners who may not regularly have the occasion to handle such tasks.
The Attorneys’ Guide also covers discovery conferences, motion practice, references, and trials. The summaries in each section provide insight into what lawyers can expect at these specific stages of litigation. As the chapter on discovery conferences makes clear, lawyers are expected to understand how certain filings will affect the discovery schedule in their particular case. The chapter on motion practice leaves no stone unturned and provides an in-depth analysis on how to properly notice a motion, the difference between substantive and discovery motions, and ultimately how to frame a motion to avoid a long form order. The chapter on references explains the process by which the court can refer certain cases to a Special Referee, from the order of reference up through the referee’s hearing and report and the chapter on trials addresses the settlement process and how trials are scheduled. Finally, the Attorneys’ Guide provides detailed biographies of and contact information for the Justices and Appendices containing items such as Court and individual rules and information about voir dire.
Ultimately, the genius of the Attorneys’ Guide lies in its solid, yet concise analysis of the myriad of issues facing today’s practitioners. The inclusion of citations to court rules along with websites and phone numbers so that lawyers can undertake further research establishes this resource as the ultimate “Attorneys’ Guide,” written with the practicing attorney in mind. It truly delivers in so many more ways than any practitioner could wish for and should be required reading when litigating in New York County.
Peter McGowan is Managing Attorney at Sidley Austin LLP.