5 Characteristics of a Winning Trial Notebook
A court date has been set, the coffee pot is full, adrenaline is kicking in, and you’re about to put together a solid case to wow the client. How confident are you that your presentation is going to wow judge and jury as well?
Presenting your case in court is the culmination of all the hard work put forth in its preparation. You’ve worked hard for your client, investigating the case, performing legal research, creating piles of briefs and memoranda, lining up expert witnesses, scheduling and calendaring, accounting for all billable hours, securing your evidence, creating exhibits, pouring over discovery, and making sure every I was dotted, every T was crossed. In all, you want your case presentation to be a work of art, and that’s why we’re here. We want to give you the framework to help you shine once you get to court.
We’ll tell you about our free Trial Notebook eBook in just a bit, but for this short intro, we’ll discuss the qualities your notebook should have that will help set you up for success when your case goes to T.R.I.A.L.:
Thoroughness – Have you included everything you’ll need and then checked it all again?
Reliability – Accuracy aside, does your notebook format work? Is it softcopy or hardcopy?
Inquisitiveness – Do your sections and forms prompt you to provide the right info?
Appearance – Does your Trial Notebook package command respect or is it a mess?
Logic – Is there a good intuitive flow to the layout of your material?
There is nothing so fatal to a court case as a missed detail. While you don’t want to be repetitive, the more important an event is the more a little redundancy is your friend. You want to include everything you need and have some good cross-reference. Some thoughts to keep in mind:
- Work from forms, templates, and checklists. Don’t leave Trial Notebook assembly to chance or memory.
- Review everything with your client and your presenting attorney(s) as you go along. Waiting until the last minute does nothing but ensure missed detail and a nervous client.
- Create an “Index and Reference” section like you would find in a text book. For example, have one list showing your Document Control numbers in order along with the items they represent, list your witnesses in alphabetical order, your e-discovery files by name, and list all other electronic file names in order with a description of their contents.
Just how can a notebook be “reliable?” Simple. It’s usable and does everything you would expect. In this case, the goals are to both house and safeguard all of your pertinent organizational data and intel, and to be ready to provide that information to you exactly when you need it.
- The heart of your system should be a hardcopy three-ring binder. Though most offices are trying to “go green” and conserve paper, there is a time and a place for a paper-based organizer. Trial is that time and place. Binders don’t crash like computers can.
- Most of us were raised on paper-based books and handwritten notes, and we’re still faster at navigating a tabbed notebook than a computer file.
- Any computer you bring in to court should use a reliable operating system and you should have a power cable, a charged battery, and all pertinent accessories.
- Your soft-copy media should come in a couple of formats just to make sure you can reliably access each. Have one copy of the file loaded on your computer and have a CD or DVD copy in addition to the files on a thumb drive.
A trial would be useless if you didn’t question anyone or anything. Why? So you don’t miss a single detail. Your Trial Notebook should do the same for you… provided you set it up right.
- As the saying goes “The dullest pencil has a better memory than the sharpest mind.” – (Author Unknown). Your forms and checklists will help you remember what to do with final notebook content review, on the day of court, and for making sure you have all the main items and support items you’ll need to ensure your presentation in court is complete, thorough, organized, and successful. “When in doubt, write it out!” Don’t leave important things to memory. Set your Trial Notebook up so that it asks you the right questions before you ask questions in court.
People shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but they do. It’s just a fact of life. For example, your personal appearance should be as professional as possible, especially when you’re in front of the client, court, or opposition. Your Trial Notebook should maintain a professional appearance as well in order to command respect from the jury, confidence from your client, and to intimidate the opposition.
- You don’t want to spend too much money on notebooks, but make sure the ones you get look good and match the folios and binders you bring with you to trial.
- All paperwork should be in some sort of binder, folio, or labeled box, and again, they should look like they all came as a set. Don’t take anything loose or unbound into court.
- Neatness counts, even when it’s only your people seeing the contents. Make sure all spelling is correct, typestyle is uniform, grammar is good, the layout follows office protocol, and all copy is legible.
The most thorough and detailed Trial Notebook in the world is going to be useless unless the presenting attorney can understand the layout and logic of how everything in the notebook is organized.
- The first consideration is, “Who is the lead or presenting attorney for the trial?” Though your firm’s notebooks should be standardized you still should consider the type of case being tried as well as the idiosyncrasies of your presenting attorney. Do they prefer hardcopy or computer? Do they like large print or small? Do they respond well to color-coded / highlighted text or bullet points?
- Though one attorney might prefer one certain format over another, keep two things in mind. One, there should be some uniformity, and two; your redundant backups should mirror each other as much as possible. For example, if the attorney prefers working from an electronic copy of the Trial Notebook and the laptop crashes, the hardcopy binder should be laid out in the same fashion as the softcopy version.
- We can’t stress this enough: work from forms, checklists, and templates.
- Though you gathered a lot of data for your case, keep in mind that the Trial Notebook is not meant to house everything, but rather, it is to be the main organizer or index of your materials and an outline of your case. Use other folios, folders, binders, and boxes for the peripheral documents. Keeping the Trial Notebook’s contents concise and to the point makes for easier navigation which is much more logical.
Sadly, in such a short article we can only speak in generalities with your Trial Notebook. There are so many types of cases. You might be working either side of civil or criminal, tax or tort, paternity or product liability, contract or malpractice, family or corporate. However, trials do have some foundational elements to them, so we’ll give you the framework you’ll need that will help you prepare the best Trial Notebook you possibly can.
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