Parents of children who play Little League are all too familiar with the following scenario: An easy high pop is hit to left-center field; the left fielder and center fielder both approach; then they both stop, thinking the other will catch it; the ball drops to the ground for a base-hit (or a home run, depending on the level of play). Thus, right up there with “keep your eye on the ball,” keep your glove on the ground,” and “remember to wear a cup,” “somebody call it!” is one of the most oft -heard directions to young players.
Baseball, of course, is a metaphor for life and its lessons are applicable to a great many things. The admonition to “call it” is no exception. And, as two law firms recently learned, the consequences of a dropped ball can be far more severe for lawyers than for Little Leaguers. In Two-Way Media, LLC v. AT&T Operations, Inc., a $40 million patent case, the two firms missed an appeal deadline because none of the eighteen (18) attorneys working on the case actually reviewed the court’s order that started the appeals clock. The excuse? The order was attached to an electronic notice from the court that mistakenly identified it as pertaining to a motion to seal so one bothered to read the actual order. In other words, none of the 18 lawyers thought the order was important enough to read (picture a baseball diamond populated with two entire teams playing the field and watching a pop fly drop to the ground). That’s a tough sell to the judge who wrote the order. As the attached opinion makes clear, he didn’t buy it.
Law firms often staff matters with multiple lawyers and professionals; that’s perfectly appropriate, of course. But as we learn from this the Two-Way Media case (and from Little League coaches), there’s no such thing as safety in numbers alone. Each lawyer bears responsibility to his or her clients and it’s not enough to say that you thought someone else on the team was handing something. “Call it” yourself or ensure that someone else is handling.
And for those who question the value of the lessons that youth baseball teaches, this speech by the losing coach of the 2014 Little League World Series to his team says it all.