Working in the law firm setting prior to becoming a Trainer/Trial Tech gave me a better sense of direction and understanding that, to be successful in this field, you must know how to manage your case before you even step foot in the courtroom. Training attorneys, paralegals, consultants, videographers, and court reporters every day has given me a sense that not everyone knows how to properly organize and manage their documents.
Whether you are a solo practitioner or part of a large law firm, organization is key. The funny thing about it is, from the bottom, all the way to the top, the process is the exact same. It would be unusual for a firm to be drastically different and then in return be more effective during a presentation.
As an example, using trial presentation software, such as TrialDirector, will not only help manage your case documents but also present them as well. However, you need to know how to organize your case documents before you put them in the software for these tools to benefit you. Sure, document management systems offer a wide variety of tools to assist in any way possible, but without prior knowledge of how to use the tools appropriately, and set yourself up for success, there is no sense in even using them at all.
However, before we get to the tips, let’s get on the same page of what case management and organization is, or should be.
Why is it that case management gets overlooked when preparing for trial? All the focus seems to be on the presentation.
There is a big difference between case management and presentation. The presentation is the body in motion, creating rhythmic moves to entertain the audience – the jury. Case management is the brain controlling and moving the body parts that, in the end, tell a story.
Presentation, of course, is needed to tell a true and complete story. But add the ability to access and call up documents faster than ever, and you reach a level of engagement with your audience never before possible. This is why case management is so important. It allows you to use modern technology to its full potential, creating a sense of clean, uniform structure.
However, to get to that point, proper and efficient case organization and management must be done to ensure your case will look clean and presentable when you put it into the software. Relying on presentation alone is not an avenue of approach when it comes to being successful in trial. The smaller things in trial indeed matter too. Not only do you need to think big picture, but every little proactive approach to processing a legal matter are in the end crucial to winning your case.
So, how do you get from Point A, the law firm, to point B, the courtroom? Consider these six tips in preparation for your next case or even the case you’re working on now.
Indexing basically comes down to the who, what, where, when and how of your client, and/or third party documents. So, why should you even put in the time to index? Some law firms do not typically index their documents at all or until later during Discovery. Indexing is the process of gathering information or data that directly corresponds with documents being received by your client and or any third parties associated with your case.
Using programs such as Microsoft Excel can dramatically change your organization of your documents for the better and improve importing data into your document management and trial presentation software.
Recording document identifiers, dates received, whom it’s from, type of document, descriptions, production numbers…etc., will in fact significantly make things easier down the road. Below is an example of a typical spreadsheet you could easily create on your own.
2. Identifying Document ID’s
Properly identifying your documents is one of the biggest issues we run into when it comes to firms and companies managing their case. Whether it’s training a law firm how to properly build a case or consulting for a law firm, your client review documents must be properly identified.
The law firms that we train and consult for typically have long superfluous descriptions as their document identifiers. Utilize smaller naming conventions, such as bates numbers or exhibit numbers and the descriptions of that document can then be used in a separate field. By doing so, it makes importing and case managing your documents much easier, as opposed to relying on long, unnecessary identifiers.
There are shortcuts that can be taken in your presentation software, as well as programs to download to help re-identify a batch of documents, but why not start early and avoid re-doing time-consuming work?
3. Specific File Formats
Specific types of file formats are necessary and easier to use. Let’s be honest here. The entire industry is transitioning over to Portable Document Formats, also known as PDFs. Maintaining the original file formats is important and relevant, but as soon as you can, convert all your documents to PDF’s.
Utilizing native files in presentation software has its pitfalls. Incorporating a native file that is not a PDF will not allow the user to annotate or edit a document while presenting. Converting to PDFs creates a consistent file format that in the end is easier to work with.
Not only is it easier, but it is a multipage document as well, to where programs by default organize in alphanumeric order and automatically paginate for you.
If you are not concerned with resolution or separation of your documents, then convert them to PDFs.
4. Rotating and De-Duplication
Rotating and de-duplicating your documents should be standard practice and not overlooked.
Rotating your documents to a landscape or portrait layout can dramatically change how those documents are to be presented in court. However, this does depend greatly on the image itself. Make sure to look at the document or image and make sure it is properly rotated so that presenting it would not bring up any delays or issues in court.
As you review your documents, you always want to make sure you get rid of any duplicates, to ensure your presentation is flawless.
5. Centralizing Your Case
Centralization of your documents within your file explorer is organizational gold. When document review starts, it’s essential to centralize your documents in organized folders. The organized folders should all be placed into one folder that could, for example, be your main case folder (e.g. Jones vs. Smith).
Knowing where your documents are all located, whether it’s in a network folder, local C: Drive, cloud or external drive creates a sense of security and organization. This only increases your chances of maintaining your centralization and organization upon creating your case in your presentation software program.
6. Game Plan
Finally, a game plan is key to putting everything together at the end. When it comes to a game plan, as a consultant and or paralegal at a law firm, you want to go in with an organized and detailed approach to how you will be managing your files.
Prepare a checklist beforehand to make sure you have covered all you want to accomplish before going to court. Knowing the smaller things that are directly associated with managing your case will directly impact how well you perform in the hot seat.
Perhaps to you, these tips seem obvious, or quite easy, but in my experience, they’re not to the average person. It all begins with the firm’s general practice. Having a standard general practice will initiate the process by default for all team members to properly manage case documents.
If it’s not your firm’s general practice to properly case manage your documents in preparation for trial, then you are already setting your team behind. You need to convince yourself, and your firm that putting in the time and money beforehand, will then in return save you time and money getting ready for and going to trial.
So, with all your case organization and management skills being used before trial begins, why is this relevant or how does this correlate with the presentation? The steps you would use to prepare your documents for trial also directly apply or correlate within your software. It all comes together when creating, building, managing and presenting your case in court.
By taking the necessary steps before trial, you only increase your chances of being successful. Some of you might be thinking that this is unnecessary and takes away from other tasks at hand, but I guarantee it will make you better prepared in the end. As I instruct all my trainees, “Managing your case, is more important than presenting.” If you properly organize and prepare your exhibits, then the presentation portion is a piece of cake.
The smaller things in trial matter.
What are some tips you have found successful when using document management and trial presentation software?
You can contact Ethan, the author of this post, on LinkedIn or by email at email@example.com. Ethan is the Lead Technical Trainer at inData Corporation.