Vail Law: The (legal) rules that bind us
We lawyers don’t go willy-nilly about our business. There are rarely “Perry Mason” or “Boston Legal” moments in a courtroom where a lawyer pops up with some newly discovered piece of evidence. It’s generally more mundane than that. There is drama in courtroom, to be sure, but there are seldom outright surprises.In reality, we lawyers are bound by rules, lots and lots of rules which shape a matter as it bends towards court and which lend form and flow within a courtroom.There are state rules and federal rules and local jurisdictional rules depending on what court you’re in. There are small claims court rules, municipal court rules, county court rules, state district court rules, water court rules, U.S. District Court rules, and appeals court rules. And, of course, the rules vary from one state to another. What they impart in common, though, is uniformity and predictability in doling out the law. And that is generally a good thing. Especially when compared to plunging headfirst into an ambush.In law school budding lawyers are taught form, substance and a mode of thinking. The mode of thinking is critical analysis. The substance is the law per se and the form may be thought of as the rules. We learn the rules of evidence, the rules of civil procedure, the rules of criminal procedure and others. In other words, we learn not only what the law is and how the law evolved, but also how to absorb it, make use of it, and distribute it effectively. We learn, too, the proper allocation of the law and the means and parameters within which it may be deployed. A good lawyer not only knows the law, but knows how to think about the law and how to use the rules to guide the ship of argument to port.Overarching all these rules are the “Rules of Professional Conduct,” which lay down the ethical precepts by which attorneys are bound by law to follow. These rules set out ethical parameters ranging from attorney-client relations, truth and candor towards others, to attorney advertising and discipline.Perhaps the Big Kahunas in the armory of litigation are the Rules of Civil Procedure (or, equally, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, depending on one’s practice) and the Rules of Evidence.Speaking generally, the Rules of Procedure guide a case from beginning to end and dictate when and in what form the prosecution of a matter is guided towards court. The rules govern procedure and range from how and when an action is commenced, to giving shape and substance to discovery, to dictating the form and quality of pleadings, motions and other documents, to the conduct of trials, through judgment. Although they are intended to be broadly applied and liberally interpreted, they can be quite detailed and specific, sometimes including margin width and font size.The Rules of Evidence are promulgated and enforced in the interests of securing fairness in administration, elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay, and promotion of growth and development of the law of evidence. There are rules pertaining to relevancy, privileges and the myriad forms of testimony.Rules make the legal world go round. They are the hammer by which the nails of the law are applied, the means and method by which the facts, the law, legal reasoning and argument become congealed to make one’s pitch for justice before the Court. In setting timelines and parameters, the rules help drive a case purposefully and predictable forward. They act as signposts and directions on the road to litigation and the hopefully peaceful resolution of disputes.The various rules that impact administration of the law are meant to level the playing field and to make it predictable. In that way, they are like rules in any number of other endeavors, from football to Texas hold ’em. Often the sign of an effective lawyer is one who is intimate with the rules, comports himself professionally within those rules, and respects the sweat, thought, intellectually equity, and experience that has been invested their careful and effective evolution.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business & commercial transactions, real estate & development, homeowner’s associations, family law & divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECO TV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.