Chapter 1. Scheduling Orders
This chapter will address the law and use of scheduling orders in Tennessee civil cases.
Why start a book titled “Tennessee Law of Civil Trial” with the topic of scheduling orders? Because one of your goals as a trial lawyer is to favorably resolve your client’s case as economically, efficiently, and promptly as reasonably possible under all the circumstances. If suit must be filed, accomplishing that goal often depends on getting – and keeping – a trial date. An appropriate scheduling order is the best way to obtain a trial date and achieve those goals.
Some lawyers seek to avoid the entry of scheduling orders because, by definition, a scheduling order includes a series of deadlines for one or all the parties, and thus one or all the lawyers in the case. Deadlines create stress, and many lawyers prefer to allow the case to naturally progress through the litigation process without being tied down to completing a certain task by a certain date. Although every reader of this book can see the benefit of avoiding the stress imposed by court-ordered deadlines, the lack of scheduling orders tends to (a) increase the length of time the case remains a part of the litigants’ lives; (b) increase the length of time the case is on the court’s docket; (c) increase the likelihood of a continuance of the trial date because inevitably someone will say that an opponent did not do what was needed to be done in a timely manner, claim actual or feigned prejudice, and obtain a postponement of the trial date; and (d) may actually increase stress for those who, because of client pressure or otherwise, are actively working to bring the case to an end.
Trial dates drive case resolution, by settlement or trial. A scheduling order guides the parties through the trial preparation process and reduces the need for continuances. Unless prohibited by local rule or practice, most cases on a court’s docket for more than six months should have a scheduling order (with a trial date) in place.
One last suggestion: try to include date-certain deadlines in your scheduling orders whenever possible. Although not always avoidable, scheduling orders that read like math problems by setting deadlines “forty-five days prior to” or “fourteen days after” other events can leave room for calculation errors. Setting a hard deadline removes the additional step of doing calculations and the chance of accidentally missing the mark by one day.