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Real emergencies versus fake emergencies

There’s a saying that in doing work quickly, inexpensively, and accurately, you are lucky if you can achieve two of the three, but can never do all three. While obviously not an iron-clad rule, experience has shown it to be true. For myriad reasons the process of trying to rush something makes it harder and more expensive to do correctly. The luxury of time allows contemplation and reflection–and sometimes negotiation. Being able to put work aside and return to it later enables one to catch errors and consider issues that may not have been perceived initially. Having time to solve a problem allows for resolutions by agreement rather than rushing to court.

Doing tasks under time constraints requires a more vigilant initial analysis, making it more expensive. Doing tasks under time constraints makes it harder to catch errors or omissions, making it less accurate. In law, doing tasks under time constraints limits opportunities to avoid contested litigation. Thus rush jobs are either expensive or inaccurate–and often both.

By definition emergencies are rush jobs. There are two types of emergencies: those that realistically could not have been anticipated and those that clearly could have been, or even were, anticipated. I label these types “real” emergencies and “fake” emergencies. A classic example of a “fake” emergency are holiday and summer visitation disputes that simmer until the day before the visitation is to begin. Like many family law attorneys, I try to close my office before Christmas, Spring break, and Thanksgiving to avoid handling these fake emergencies. Another example of “fake” emergencies are child endangerment issues that a client has been aware of for days or weeks but only makes his or her attorney aware of when the other parent is ready to exercise visitation. Another example of a “fake” emergency is a client who has substantial notice of a court hearing but waits until days before court to seek an attorney.

A client with an emergency should expect to pay more if he or she wants that emergency handled correctly. Clients with limited budgets should limit emergencies: if they require work to be inexpensive and accurate, they cannot have it done quickly. The easiest way to avoid paying for emergencies is to anticipate problems before they become emergencies and thereby avoid “fake” emergencies.

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