Get to the Point
Specificity Avoids Calendar Calamities
“Your Honor, this is a motion to vacate the most recent order and request for rehearing. Unfortunately, our failure to appear was caused by a calendaring error in our office.”
How embarrassing. Yet, “calendaring” or “docketing” (depending on your jurisdiction) errors happen regularly. Some of the causes of these mistakes can be eliminated by avoiding certain phrases in communications about date and time setting.
Imagine it’s the 1st of the month, which happens to be a Friday. You email opposing counsel and agree to an expedited hearing for “next Thursday.” Is that the next Thursday to come along, the 7th? Or would that be the 14th?
Many people will tell you that the 7th should be termed “this Thursday” and “next Thursday” would be the 14th. Grammarians say the reason is that “this Thursday” means the Thursday of this week and “next Thursday” means the Thursday of the next week. Oh, and “this Saturday” (or whatever day you’re talking about) should never be the same as “tomorrow.” But in this example, the 7th is in the next week; the 14th is in the week after that.
A related problem arises when an event is moved “up,” “forward” or “back.” “Move back” has been defined both as making an event occur earlier and later. If you are debating whether to move a date or time “forward” or “back,” it seems these must be opposites. Do these phrases mean the new date or time will be closer in time to the present — or the opposite?
As in so much else in law, the solution is to avoid ambiguity in the first place. Confusion about these phrases is so common, there is little reason to rely on them. Avoid them altogether, and use the exact date and time when scheduling: “We’ve agreed to set the hearing for the 7th at 10:00 a.m.”
The contiguous states use four time zones commonly termed: Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. Alaska and Hawaii each has its own time zone. Between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November, most of the states change the time by an hour for Daylight Saving Time, but not Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation) or Hawaii. Overseas U.S. territories also disdain Daylight Saving Time. During Daylight Saving Time, time zones may be abbreviated EDT, CDT, MDT, PDT and ADT. During Standard Time, time zones may be abbreviated EST, CST, MST, PST, AST and HST.
So why am I getting notice of a July conference call to be scheduled for 11 a.m. EST? Does the sender really mean Eastern Standard Time and I should adjust? Or does the sender not understand that EST is not observed during the summer? Most recipients will probably correctly assume the sender habitually uses EST and really means 11 a.m. as currently in effect.
If you’re booking an overnight flight, is the correct choice 12:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m.? “Meridiem” is Latin for “midday” or noon. The times 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 a.m. are ante meridiem, before noon; 12:01 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. are post meridiem, after noon. The abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.” are incorrect for noon and midnight. Yet, many people use 12:00 p.m. for noon and 12:00 a.m. for midnight.
Why Cause Confusion at All?
You can omit the middle letter from a time zone reference. Use ET, CT, MT, PT, AT or HT. People will figure it out, and you haven’t created any ambiguity.
Lawyers are unlikely to schedule professional events at midnight, but you might need to reference an event that occurred at noon or midnight. If the plaintiff was injured at a rave that started at midnight or in a noon collision, say so. Don’t confuse your readers or listeners by using a.m. and p.m. for noon and midnight.
Arizonans and redeye flyers, you’re on your own!
Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers compensation cases throughout California. She is also available for legal freelance writing assignments. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the author of four books published by the American Bar Association, including "Women Rainmakers' Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition." Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.
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