Thursday, December 27, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You File Using the CM/ECF System

Last time we discussed removal from state court to federal court.  If you're in a state system that already utilizes an electronic filing system, then you have a head start on the process.  If you aren't, then you're likely like the rest of us.  Fumbling around at 11:55 pm trying to find the right classification of pleading to timely file.

This post probably won't be very exciting.  It will be more of an instructional with screen shots.  We will be viewing CM/ECF systems from the Western District of Missouri.  A few weeks later, we'll be looking at the CM/ECF system of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals when we get into how to file an appeal and what is required for the filing.

First things first: CM/ECF actually means something -- "Case Management/Electronic Case Files." Also, this guide will barely touch on case initiation. For the nuts and bolts on how to initiate a case see WDMO Guide to Case Initiation through ECF/CM.  Each district is different.  In the District of Kansas, you email the complaint to the clerk.  In Arkansas, you mail the complaint in to the clerk via U.S. Mail.  In the Western District of Missouri, you can file online through the CM/ECF system.

These screen shots are hard to read.  It may be helpful to log in and go screen by screen so you can see what I'm looking at as you move through the process.

1) When you log in you'll be taken to the CM/ECF home screen for the court.  There is a header at the top takes you to the appropriate screens.  Right now we'll go ahead and click "Civil."  Don't worry about the drop down menu, just click the word.

2) The screen below is now seen.  This is the main menu for Civil filing.  The program calls each filing an "event."  You'll see you can open a new case through "Online Case Opening," request a "Certificate of Good Standing," "Email the Court" proposed orders or summons, file "Initial Pleadings and Service," file "Motions and Related Filings," and file "Other Filings." The list below each heading is clickable.  To file your proof of service, or notice of acknowledgement, click "Service of Process" under "Initial Pleadings and Service."

To file an an amended complaint click "Complaint and Other Initiating Documents" under "Initial Pleadings and Service." 

For you attorneys that do Social Security Disability appeals to the District Court, your menu is under "Social Security Events." 

 3) We're going to file a motion for leave to amend a complaint. Click "Motions" under "Motions and Related Filings." The following screen pops up. Whatever "available events" you click will appear in the empty box on the top. If you don't want to scroll, type in the box. Either type "Amend" or click the second option, "Amend/Correct." You'll see it appear in the "Selected Events" box to the right of the list.

Click the "Next" box beneath the list and wait. Seriously. Just wait.

 4) The next screen you'll see is asking for your case number.  There are several ways you can put in the number and it not work.  Just to be sure, put all numbers in except for the first several "0s" in the last part.  For instance, "4:12-cv-00123" should be entered, ""4:12-cv-123." 

Here's a tricky part on slower computers.  Once you put in your case number and click the "Next" box DON'T DO ANYTHING UNTIL YOU SEE THE NEXT SCREEN.  The case name will be seen before ANY of the page loads.  It tempts you to click it.  Don't.  You go into a report screen for the case and can lose important minutes when you should be filing. 

 5) Make sure you WAIT . . . wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . until you see this:

Now that you see the correct screen . . . You'll see a button that reads, "Pick Filer." To the right you'll see "Select the filer."  Under "Pick Filer," you can see parent corporations of a company (it there are any) and who represents what party by clicking the "+" sign next to the party.  To actually file, click your party's name or names.  To select multiple names hold "ctrl" on your keyboard while clicking.  Or select the radial dial "All Defendants."  Once your party is blue (and I hope that doesn't indicate how they feel about your representation), click "Next."

6) Now you've got a screen that looks like this:

The main difference is that there isn't a huge black box over your parties' names.  (After all, I did click that I would redact when I logged in . . .)  There are two areas you can load documents.  "Main Document" and "Attachments."  For our motion for leave to amend, we'll click "Browse" next to "Main Document."  Go find the right file and click it once to highlight it.  Then click "Open" in the window.  By the way the documents must be PDF files. 

SIDEBAR: If you have an MS Word doc and you need to it be in PDF, Microsoft Word 2010 allows you to save Doc and Docx files as PDFs.  Open the document.  Press "File" in the top left corner, select "save as" and find the correct drop down "PDF."  You're all set!

If you don't have MS Word 2010, download the free version of Primo PDF.  When you get that downloaded, instead of saving from Word, "print" the document to the Primo PDF "printer."

Back to Filing: After you've found your motion to amend, and pressed "open," you'll see the document path in the box to the left of "Browse." 

Go to the "attachment" browse and upload a copy of the amended complaint you are seeking leave to file.  Click the arrow under category and a list of options will appear.  Click "Exhibit."  Type whatever you want in the description. I would type "A - Amended Complaint," or something like that.  Press "Next" and wait for the next screen.

7) This screen is asking you to relate it to a document.

If it is not a motion in response, click "Next."  The motion we're doing is not related to anything.  If it is, check mark that box next to "Should this . . . " When you have that clicked and press "Next," a list of all relatable documents is seen.  Click the box to the left of the document you're relating to and press "Next."

8) This screen is basically for your information.  This is when your opposing counsel must reply to the motion unless otherwise specified by the court. Click "Next."

9) The following screen allows you to add details about the motion.  The first box is a drop down menu and the second box can by typed in.  On this motion I would leave the first box blank and type "Complaint" in the second box.  Once you're satisfied with your decision, click "Next."

10) This screen is your last chance to determine that you want to file and that the filing is correct.  Look this over carefully and determine that everything looks good.  The fakepath at the bottom is for you to make sure you have the correct file.  That document path will not be seen by anyone.  When you're ready to pull the trigger and continue the adverserial process. Click "Next."  TWICE!  I don't know why this happens to me, but I have to press "next" two times to submit the filing.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have filed your motion for leave to file an amended complaint!  And now another 14 days of wainting begins . . .

Saturday, December 22, 2012

4L: What to do When. . . You Get Removed to Federal Court for the First Time

You triumphantly walk out of the county courthouse. Although you've been an attorney for three months, and you've been out of law school for eight months, you just completed your first REAL act as an attorney -- you've filed your very first case. A person has trusted you to represent them in their time of pain and injury. A person has trusted you to fight for them against the mega car company that poorly designed a breaking system on their new car.

Defendants are served and now you wait . . . And you wait some more . . . You'll be waiting for 30 days wondering what big-firm will be hired. What Super Lawyer will be filing a response . . . And the waiting seems longer when you're filling your time with playing NHL 2005 on PlayStation 2, perusing "People You May Know" on, and reading "Speaker for the Dead." After all you've already finished your projects on your other five cases. Well that's what it was like for me.

And it happens. The bombshell. You're hit with a dizzying notice of removal. Even though you got a "B" in Federal Civil Procedure, you have no idea how to handle this. After all, your professor didn't teach anything about 28 U.S.C. § 1446. You just know when removal is proper jurisdictionally speaking. And add the fact that you're not even admitted to practice in the federal court in which the notice was filed in!

Ok, first things first. Calm down. Take a deep breath. The first thing you need to do is get admitted in federal court. And fast. Especially if the notice is deficient and you have a fighting chance of remand.

1. Call the federal court and speak to someone that can tell you what steps to take to get admitted. About 15 days passed from removal to my admittance in the proper court. Once I got the forms that were needed, my sponsors to fill out sponsorship statements, and paid the admissions fee, I attended a local swearing in ceremony with about 5 other attorneys.

2. Determine if the notice was procedurally sufficient. Read and re-read 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1445-48. The notice must be filed in federal court within 30 days of service on the defendant. It must be filed with the state court docket sheet and legal file of record from the state court. In some circuits, including the 8th, the notice of removal to the state court must also be filed within 30 days or the removal is not effected. A remand is proper for procedurally deficient removals on that basis.

3. If you have grounds, procedurally or otherwise, file a motion for remand. A motion for remand for any reason besides subject matter jurisdiction must be filed within 30 days from the date of filing of the notice of removal. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

Side note: how to file through ECF/CM system will be the next post.

4. If you don't have grounds for removal and there are federal claims that can be brought (or state claims if the original complaint stated only federal claims), file a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Add the appropriate claims and file your amended complaint.

5. Learn the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and enjoy the prestige of federal practice.

Congratulations, you're in federal court! At least you didn't have to pay the $350.00 filing fee . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Opposing Counsel: Naughty or Nice?

So you're an attorney.  You're armed with the authority to make decisions for people.  You're equipped with the brilliance to pinpoint the appropriate law to the judge.  And you're block-headed enough to do it with arrogance, obstinacy, and inflexibility.  And you wonder why no one wants to work with you or will consent to an extension. 

I've tried to build relationships with a good deal of people in the legal community.  If I have an appearance on a case that I haven't met the opposing attorney, I try to find a picture of them so I can introduce myself before our case is called.  This isn't everyone's style.  But I've found that the case goes better for both attorneys and both clients when I have a good relationship with the other attorney.  After all, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

One thing I've noticed about attorneys that seem to be hard to deal with -- they're young.  Why do young attorneys feel the need to be tough, stand their ground, or even be inflexible.  No body will think you're incapable because you give ground on the unimportant things.  No body will think less of you if you're kind but firm.  Here's a secret: they'll think higher of you.

In recent weeks I have gotten some choice morsels of advice from some very reputable sources.  Rob Pitkin is an attorney in Kansas City at Levy Craig.  He has been honored as a Super Lawyer since '05 and has been chosen as one of the Best Lawyers in America for the last two years.  We were actually taking about handling other attorneys.  He recounted how he once thought he needed to be tough and hard when handling cases.  He stated that method was inconsistent with who he was.  As he has gotten older, and more experienced, he said that he's found it to be much better to 1) be himself, and 2) be gracious to his opposing counsel.  His words to me: "It's hard to do wrong to someone you like."  The moral? Get to like you're opponent and you'll be easier to work with.  As important is to get to know your opponent and get them to like you.  You'll have more fun with the case, you'll get more out of the case, and you'll have a relationship that WILL come back to benefit you in years to come.

Here's another encounter worth noting: Rod Richardson is the President of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association (KCMBA).  He was discussing how the KCMBA can garner more members this year.  He was telling the leadership team about building relationships with fellow attorneys in the community and inviting them to meetings.  He analogized getting bar membership to practicing against other attorneys.  He implored us to build healthy relationships with our opponents because, "You won't spit on someone you like."  Nearly identical language from two separate veteran practitioners. 

What's the lesson?  Don't be hard to work with, inflexible, or closed down.  This specifically is a call to younger attorneys: Play nice! Be friendly.  You'll do your client AND THE PROFESSION a service if you're nice. 

Or you can be naughty.  And you'll do your client and profession a disservice.  And sooner or later, the judge will give you a lump of coal.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 2: Learning the Law

"Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it."  ~Proverb from about 954 B.C. 

The idea of attorneys is one that attorneys are typically wealthy.  Closely related to that is they are typically knowledgeable and wise.  The proverb above has an interesting interplay of words.  Look at this:

1) Wisdom is a shelter.
2) Money is a shelter.
3) There is an advantage to knowledge (not wisdom).
4) Wisdom PRESERVES those who have [knowledge].

The writer is specifically stating, by omission, that money does not preserve those who have it, even though it can be a shelter.  On the other hand, knowledge backed by wisdom preserves the wise.  And wisdom can only come through having knowledge and applying it.  This week's blog focuses on HOW to get knowledge that can actually translate into wisdom.  Once wisdom is attained, then money will likely follow.

Learning the Law - A good friend and gracious mentor, Alan Gallas, told me one time, "Practice the law during the day, and learn the law at night."  We were discussing that, as solo practitioners, there really isn't enough time to try to learn the law during working hours.  Between client calls, meetings, court appearances, and document drafting, it is hard to sit down and search an area of law you need to know (or not even know you need to know yet).  When you do have clients and cases to attend to, you must make time in the evening to grab the Mobar CLE deskbooks (or whatever resources your state offers), a treatise on mergers and acquisitions, or get on lexis and look up case law on a certain topic . . .

When you don't have clients it's not that easy . . . I went to law school not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  This school had a ton of physical books for nearly every state.  The school renovated its library and needed to free up a ton of space by giving away unused books.  The unused books on the East Coast happen to be the entire sets of Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes and West's Missouri Digest 2d.  Knowing that I was coming back to the Midwest, Saundra I begrudgingly loaded all 266 books ($10,000 worth of books that I could've never purchased) in the back of my old Land Rover (it looked like it was on the verge of popping a wheelie).

When I first started practicing, and I only had two clients (neither case was an area I really wanted to get into) I decided to start going through my free books to learn certain areas of the law.  And I did this for about one week.  It was actually very hard to learn anything.  I figured out that the only law I was learning was the law related to my two cases. Why? Because I had no purpose in my research or answers I needed to find.

Q and A - As I tried to find things to fill up my time, I began signing up for legal related websites.  A few of them have question and answer forums.  The two that I have found were the easiest to use were and  For the newest attorneys, you probably won't be able to sign up for Avvo for about 9 months.  So sign up for and start answering questions.  For all other attorneys, you already have a Avvo placeholder for your profile because the state bar associations give that information to Avvo (or Avvo takes it, one of the two).

Why is this important? Because you will be forced to seek out a specific answer to a real question.  And these limited scope representation answers probably won't lead to malpractice. (To be honest, several of my answers have translated into paying clients. So that alone should motivate you to do this).  Once you get old enough to go to Avvo, do that.  The questions are better and more specific.

Another thing Avvo offers is a point system.  You get points for answering questions, for other attorney's marking your answer as good, for the asker marking your answer as the best, for writing legal guides, etc.  Being raised on video games, it makes it easy to want to answer questions to increase my score.  It's really kinda competitive and requires good, thorough answers to score better.

When you get a question on a certain area of law, start trying to learn as much as you can so you can answer the question thoroughly.  And if the question doesn't have enough facts don't say, "This doesn't have enough facts and I can't answer this you idiot."  You'd be surprised, but you will see other attorneys answer that way.  Would you put that on a law school exam? I hope not.  Say, "Well if the facts were this way _____ (answer appropriately to the facts). And if they were this way _____________(answer alternatively)."

You'll start finding out you can argue any case both ways.  And you'll know one of the most important things in real practice.  What facts change the outcome.

So run out and start learning to gain knowledge, for wisdom will preserve you if you have knowledge.

Friday, March 9, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 1

Well it's that time again.  It's February bar exam time.  And that may be harder than the regular July bar exam time.  At this time, students are coming out of school at a time when most firms are prepping for their summer interns or fall associates.  At least this year, the economy is supposedly getting better and more firms are hiring . . . supposedly.  So if you take the Feb. bar, or took the July bar and are still looking (or took the July bar in 2010 and are still looking), this blog's for you.  It's also for the attorneys that have been practicing for 10+ years and have seen a substantial drop in clientele. 
You don't have clients.  You're sitting there in a suit watching YouTube.  Or you're sleeping in till noon.  I've done both.  I've done both with and without clients.  It's more fun with clients, let me tell you.  Then it's a time-waster or mini-vacation, not a way of life.  Either way it's probably your fault.  Yes, I said it! IT IS YOUR FAULT!  Clients are not going to find you out and walk in your door (especially if you're in sweatpants and a Superman shirt).  You will have to do SOMETHING.  So what are those somethings? 

Relationships - I've said it before and I'll say it until I die, I hate the word "networking."  No, seriously I hate it. And you should too!  Don't network.  You won't want to, it won't be important, and you won't remember anyone (and they won't remember you either).  Build relationships.  This way, you'll care, you'll want to, and you'll remember people (they still won't remember you). 

When you don't have clients it is ABSOLUTELY imperative that you build relationships with a great deal of people, especially attorneys.  If you have local bar events, or free CLEs, or know any one attorney you can do this.  Email the one attorney you know.  Tell them you are just starting out and have some questions (offer to take THEM to lunch and then actually pay). 

At this meeting, tell them you want to know how to do __________.  Ask them how it was when they started.  Tell them you're not looking for a job, but just wanted to pick their brain about something legal.  I will almost GUARANTEE that they will offer a LIST of people to talk to.  Be real.  Tell them the areas you want to practice (even if it's not in their area, they'll know people).  My wife met with a Federal Judge and he gave her a list of 13 people to contact! 13 PEOPLE! Well at least you know your next 13 emails and meetings. When you email the leads, tell them "so and so told me to contact you."  Then you're introducing yourself in the authority of the person you got their name from.

The day after the meeting, and I MEAN DAY! Hand write a note to them.  Thank them for their time, their advice, and tell them you are "looking forward to developing a mutually beneficial relationship."  (As a side note, I got lunch with a partner of Bigfirm.  I was EXCITED!!!!!! I thought, this guy can help my career!  You know what happened? He paid for my lunch and I gave him several legal documents for a new client that needed products liability intake procedures.  And you know what? It was worth it. We became friends and he introduced me to other people.  And he answered my phone call every time I called.  Just remember, sometimes you're there to bless someone else, not be blessed.  He has since passed and the whole Kansas City legal community has felt it.)

Do it.  You'll get clients from it.  Most importantly, you'll meet people that will guide you and continue to guide you.  And you'll build a relationship that is worth having.  I have meet a few of my mentors this way.  And in my position - "young attorney upstart that started up own firm" - it is imperative to surround myself with experienced teachers that are willing to share their knowledge at the risk of training their competition.  Almost every one of my mentors has referred work my way. 

Stay tuned for "What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 2 . . . Learning the Law."

Friday, February 17, 2012

“Out-of-the-Box Entrepreneurialism”: The Essential Element For a Change Agent

The setting sun is nearly blinding, but you’re still upbeat. You’re driving home from work on Friday. Your hair is being tousled as you cut through the turns in your favorite convertible listening to your iPod. You grab your smartphone to confirm your dinner reservations. And then you take a moment to thank Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. Wait?! Thank who? For what? Well, why shouldn’t you be grateful to three people that drastically advanced our society and drastically changed your world?

Edison, Ford, and Jobs’s out-of-the-box entrepreneurialism has positively impacted their industries, you, and well . . . everyone else in their path. For instance, your car, desk-lamp, computer, CD (and DVD) player are just a few consequences of “Out-of-the-Box Entrepreneurialism” (OBE) at work. 

“Out-of-the-box entrepreneurialism” is a combination of radical thinking and passionate application. This 1-2 punch is essential in fulfilling your purpose. Just as important, it creates a positive impact on your industry, those around you, and those in your wake. OBE engages a thinking perspective that deliberately expands ideas beyond current processes and purposes. It challenges the formalistic structures of hierarchies and asks for more. It engages an application technique that deliberately perseveres to succeed despite nonexistent channels. It utilizes a “can’t quit” mentality while pushing through failure upon failure. It is only for the quick-minded and strong at heart. 

Edison’s constant drive to market inventions for commercial application lead to the phonograph (and subsequently the radio, the tape recorder, CD, and iPod), the incandescent light bulb (and subsequently fiber-optics, LED lighting, and tanning beds), and the automobile (Edison encouraged his employee Henry Ford to experiment with gas engines). Edison did not look across his competition to emulate their tactics. He was deliberate in his creation of the radical. He passionately put his ideas to the test and we should thank him.

Ford’s radical thinking changed two industries in one fell swoop. He purposed to achieve a car manufacturing process that allowed every person in America to own a car. And he did. Ford focused his time and energy on low cost automobiles (with a little encouragement and support from Mr. Edison). He didn’t look to Chrysler or Cadillac to complete this task. He decided that current offerings were remarkably deficient and set out to create a valuable offering for those around him. Next time you jump in your gasoline powered car, and not your horse-drawn buggy, give Mr. Ford a little appreciation.

Jobs’s unending innovative pursuits have altered nations. Placing the fully-enclosed, personal-size home computer in front of nearly every human being in the world has opened communication, increased productivity, and created instant thousand-mile friends. Jobs knew that his ideas could change the landscape of his culture. He combined his famed creativity with an unbridled passion and has given every member of the global community something worthy of adulation. 

These large-scale impacts aren’t the only changes that give OBE an integral place in your world. When you, as an OBE’er, hit the streets to change the world, you make little positive impacts on everyone you come in contact with. Your excitement for an incubating initiative can be seen by others and is contagious. Discussing your ground breaking plans with others inspires them to follow their dreams. Your precise action-steps motivates you to keep creating while giving others value. Your need for team members gives others a chance to be a part of something greater than themselves.

The combined potential energy you created by cutting against the grain of formalistic structure and mediocrity has just propelled a change in society that only few could believe. All this from your radical thinking applied passionately. Continue on the path of out-of-the-box entrepreneurialism and we’ll soon be thanking you.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What’s in a Name? Increasing Your Sphere of Influence

You may have heard, “You can tell if you’re a leader by looking behind you and seeing if anybody is following you.”  Really, if nobody is following you in your endeavors, then you might not have a whole lot of influence.  There is a simple way to make sure that at least some people are influenced by your actions and words.  Learn their name.

I’m completely serious about this too.  If you actually learn the names of others, you will see your influence on them increase.  Why? Because others feel important when they are remembered.  It makes them feel good about themselves.  It shows that you made an effort to build a friendship with them.  And people listen to their friends.
Now you are probably saying, “I’m terrible with names!  I can never remember anybody’s name!”  Most people I encounter and discuss this issue with say the same thing.  And I used to say it too. Well, be encouraged! You can change! 

I used to be absolutely horrible with remembering the name of any person I met.  One time, I saw a person I knew at the movie theaters while I was with friends from school.  I started introducing the person to my friends.  After telling all of my friends’ names, I said, “This is . . . a girl from my church . . . and I . . . don’t know your name . . .”
Who does that? Who introduces a person they don’t know?  Right then and there I made a decision to purposely remember others’ names.  I found out a couple things in my attempt to make others feel special (well . . . and really make me not feel stupid . . .)

Why I couldn’t Remember Names – This is the SIMPLEST, yet STUPIDEST thing.  And I bet you’re doing it too.  When it came to introduction time, and the people I was meeting started introducing themselves, I stopped listening.  Not that I checked out, but that I was focused on thinking of the next thing to say!  Because I was thinking about what I was going to contribute to the conversation, I would miss what others were contributing . . . including their names! 
I realized this and started listening to the roll-call with purpose.  When another person was saying their name, my priority was hearing it.  And not just hearing it but trying to think of a way to tie their name to something they were wearing or doing.  “Sally is shopping.” “Mark the musician.” 

How I started Remembering Names – Little tactics like the above tie-in and saying the name five times aloud right after hearing it can be helpful to remember names, but I forget to use the first tactic and the second tactic may not be appropriate in the setting (however, as a aside, I have made a joke about it right after introductions like this:  “Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom . . . If I say it a few times I won’t forget your name.  Tim right?  I’m joking I know it’s Tom.  This actually does help because you’ve made the introduction an event that your mind will remember).

The following strategies will help you remember new names.
Say the First AND Last Name – When you introducing yourself to others, ask the other person their last name.  I know you may think this will compound your ability to remember because now you’re remembering TWO names.  But it doesn’t.  It will give you an extra tie to another thing.  Mark will be easier to remember if you know his name is Mark O’Brian.  It seems counterintuitive, so just try it.

Say the Name several times in the Conversation – Right at the beginning, “Oh, nice to meet you Mark.”  A little later on, “Well, Mark I was going to do this and that . . .” And at the end, “Mark it as great to meet you! Doing this will solidify the name with that person in your memory bank.  It will also show Mark that you know his name and he’ll feel better leaving the conversation.  It’s been said that the sweetest sound to a person’s ears is their name.
So go ahead, make a person feel good.  Drip a little honey in their ears by saying their name a few times.  And make sure you get their first and last name.  Once you start knowing names these people will start liking you, and they’ll start letting you influence them.  And this simple tool will singlehandedly increase your sphere of influence.

Friday, January 6, 2012

4L: What to do when . . . You Write Your First Complaint

Welcome back folks!  Have you ever heard the saying, "The first [one] to plead his cause [seems] right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him"?  It's a proverb from about 700 B. C.  It still seems pretty relevant today too huh?

This proverb will be our guidance for drafting our first (and every other) complaint.  While we're drafting the intricate details of our complaint, remember that when your friendly "neighbor" of a lawyer comes and examines you, your petition may not seem as right as you'd like.  With that in mind, we can use two tools in our drafting approach.  I will focus on Missouri in some parts of the approach, but generally, this approach can be used for federal complaints. 

Some of this will be VERY elementary, so if you don't care about this move on down to "Drafting the Claims." For the neophytes, here are some considerations for drafting:

Caption - I'm not very good with Microsoft Word, so I don't know how to create two separate panels in which to type while keeping the ")" from moving all over the place. Frankly, it takes too much time for me to return the close parens back to the center.

At at the beginning of my short career, I was working with a brilliant 32 year solo-practitioner, Larry Bratvold, and looking over his pleadings.  I noticed that he did not have close parens, but a straight line right down the middle of the caption.  He simply inserted a line from the shapes box and doesn't have to mess with the ")".  When his caption is longer, he stretches the line.  If it is shorter, he shrinks it.  Now I do that too, and it has saved me time AND frustration.

Title - If you're having trouble thinking of a title for the complaint, determine what you're asking. Some attorney's use things like Plaintiff's Complaint Asserting Defendant's Products Liability. Why not just say: "Complaint for Products Liability", or "Complaint Seeking Injunction"? Just say what your doing, don't make it too hard.

Introduction - I'm sure you're probably freaking out because you don't know how to word your opening sentence for the pleading.  To be honest, it doesn't matter as much as you think it does, but I'll give you an example that you can cut and paste from here:

COMES NOW, [insert Plaintiff's name(s)], Plaintiff(s), by and through his/her/their attorney, [insert your name], and for their Complaint [insert your complaint title here] allege(s), aver(s), and state(s) the following:

Remember that ONE person allegeS, averS, and stateS and many people allege, aver, and state!

Complaint Headings - Depending on your jurisdiction, you may want to set out separate headings that outline the parties, jurisdiction, background facts, or procedural history.  These should be centered and underlined.  I recommend using these headings






Body - For each sentence or thought, use a separate number:

                1.       Defendant is a foreign for-profit Delaware corporation doing business in Jackson County at 1234 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64106.  Defendant's registered agent may be found at: Bilbo Baggins, 15 Bag End, Shire, Middle Earth.  Defendant is an employer as defined by 29 U.S.C. 630(b) and has employed Plaintiff at all times relevant to this action.
                2.        Defendant hired Plaintiff on ______.
. . . and so on.

Signature Block - When you're submitting any thing to the court you should sign off with "Respectfully Submitted."  Check your jurisdiction for the information needed in the signature block, but Missouri requires: "[C]urrent mailing addresses, telephone numbers, facsimile numbers, electronic addresses, and Missouri bar numbers, if any." Rule 43.01(c). 

Now that we got some nuts and bolts out of the way.

Drafting the Claims - The other stuff is kinda important to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside when you submit the complaint.  The following stuff is of utmost importance to make sure you win the case, or at least don't get dismissed.  Drafting the claims is not as hard as you may think (or as hard as everyone seems to make it).  Just make sure you plead the elements of your claim.  That's it! No really, that's it.

Missouri is a fact pleading state.  This means that we must plead enough facts to substantiate our claim.  If your jurisdiction is not a fact pleading forum, consider doing it anyway.  The reason? Because you're reading what I'm writing and I recommend it.  No, seriously, pleading the facts gives you a method to actually plead the elements of your claims. 

1. Jury Instructions - Missouri has the Missouri Approved Jury Instructions (MAI) that should guide a Missouri attorney's complaint drafting (in Missouri we call them "Petitions."  Aren't we special?).  Rich McLeod, a very experienced attorney, who happens to be the Missouri Supreme Court  Reporter for the Committee that writes the MAI, recommends allowing the MAI to guide not only jury instructions drafting but also petition drafting.

If you know you're going to be using that verdict director for the jury, then you already know the elements you must plead.  For a negligence case, you know you have to satisfy "Duty, Breach, Causation, Damages."  So use factually based sentences that satisfy the claim.  For instance:

      1.     Defendant owns a retail business open to the public between the hours of 10 a. m. and 9 p. m.  (business owner's duty to make safe is now implied because of the fact).

     2.     Defendant failed to make safe the icy parking lot after the ice storm on Jan. 4. (breach is implied because the storm made the Defendant aware of the danger, failed to make it safe, and Plaintiff was harmed).

     3.     Plaintiff was walking on Defendant's premises during business hours to shop.  Plaintiff slipped and broke his neck, collarbone, pinky finger, big-toe, shoulder-meat, and buttocks. (causation implied from plaintiff falling on unsafe icy conditions).

     4.     Plaintiff suffered eleventy million dollars ($11,000,000.00) of medical bills from the fall on Defendant's premises.

2. CaseLaw - This is almost identical to the above tool, but this comes from the caselaw.  Research the elements of your claim and determine what the courts look for in your case.  If you have an employment discrimination case, the elements come from McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).  The prima facie case for discrimination is 1) the plaintiff/employee was in a protected class, 2) the plaintiff/employee suffered an adverse employment action, and 3) discrimination is likely the reason for the adverse action. 

So break down your petition with facts that support each element.  1) Employee is a woman, 2) the employee was fired on Oct 21, 1909, 3) employee was told women are not good workers, especially when pregnant. 

Why go through this painstaking process?  Because you will get a motion for dismissal based on a Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (12(b)(5).  When this is submitted, the judge can see that your pleading claims the elements perfectly,  and thus relief CAN be granted. 

And because you will inevitably get a summary judgment motion.  And even though you can't use your pleadings to rebuff the summary judgement motion, you can use affidavits that reiterate the elements you pled, based on the facts that the affidavit must contain.

Remember, don't make this harder than it has to be.  But also remember, to make it as professional as it should be.  And don't forget to remember that a good pleading is only as good as the claims pled.  Lastly, make sure you also remember a good pleading will still seem right when a neighbor comes and examines it.