Being a litigator means managing an immense amount of information. Witnesses, documents, key dates, and legal issues have to be tracked and managed for each case. Your success hinges on your ability to persuade, but you can't persuade without credible evidence proving every element of your claim or defense. Organizing evidence and mapping out how you'll use it becomes paramount.
Imagine you're representing a business that's been sued for breach of contract. The pleadings in the case will establish a whole network of legal issues whose determination will mean victory - or a costly defeat - for your client. The plaintiff must prove the existence of a valid contract, which typically includes the following:
- Mutuality of obligation
- Competency and capacity
You thus have an immediate line of attack: finding evidence that contradicts one or more elements necessary to the plaintiff's case. Each piece of evidence - every email, discovery response, moment of deposition testimony - must be evaluated in this light.
Organizing Claims and Defenses
Preparing the case requires you to understand the relationships between each element of the claim and the supporting (or contradictory) evidence. Is there a document that establishes a particular element? If so, you'll need to know not only where to find the document, but also which specific page to reference, as well as how to authenticate the document as a whole.
Marshalling the evidence is only half the work - the evidence and facts must be woven into into a living, breathing narrative.
Every good lawyer knows winning requires telling a compelling story, including a cast of characters, a plot, and one or more themes. But in court, the story can't be fictional. Even a poorly-told true story is better than a brilliant story that's false. Your narrative must be built on a solid foundation of credible evidence.
Each piece of the story - every fact - must have proof. In a case of any complexity, your narrative will consist of many facts. Linking each fact to the corresponding piece of evidence is simply too difficult a task for memory alone. In the past lawyers have relied on a variety of imperfect methods for managing and organizing facts, such as handwritten notes, Excel spreadsheets, and Word documents, but none of these methods enable a lawyer to achieve total case organization.
Total Case Organization
Total case organization exists when a litigator has a system with the following characteristics:
- All litigation team members have access
- The system is easy-to-use
- Users can designate relationships between facts, witnesses, legal issues, and evidence
- Facts can be segmented based on related issues, contacts, and evidence
- The data can be exported to a form usable in court
- Links show how a particular piece of evidence supports the associated fact (e.g., which page or paragraph proves the fact).
We've built Timelines with these characteristics in mind because we understand the value of an organized case file. In my practice, I used other tools to organize my cases, but they all failed to help me achieve total case organization. As a result, I would build and rebuild my cases several times, never finding a suitable home for all the important data I needed to track. Relying on Word documents and Excel to manage complex relational data is both time-consuming and anxiety-inducing. With a system in place for total case organization, you're able to move faster and with more confidence, leading to better outcomes for both you and your client.
Related: My Journey into Legal Technology