Tag Archives: Trial Preparation

6 Simple Tips to Help You Prepare to Use Trial Presentation Software

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.

Trial presentation software training
Training on TrialDirector, trial presentation software.

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.

Case Management

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.

1. Indexing

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.

Document indexing example
An example of how to set up a spreadsheet in Excel for indexing.

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.

Final Words

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.

Discussion

What are some tips you have found successful when using document management and trial presentation software?

Let us know on social media! You can connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

You can contact Ethan, the author of this post, on LinkedIn or by email at ehirsch@trialdirectoruniversity.com. Ethan is the Lead Technical Trainer at inData Corporation.

Learn more about TrialDirector and how it can help you by visiting our website. Already have TrialDirector? Consider participating in one of our training courses.

5 File Naming Tips to Improve Organization in Document Management Software

In our experience, one of the main things many trial teams have trouble with is naming case files on the computer. The names they use for their files are too descriptive and long.

For example, many attorneys use either a short or long description, sometimes even full sentences, as a file name as seen below.

One descriptive file name
One descriptive file name. Not so bad, right?

A descriptive name may make sense at first since it tells exactly what the file is, but when you’re working with hundreds or thousands of documents as is common today, those descriptive names get cluttered and make things difficult to find. See for yourself.

Full list of descriptive file names
A full list of descriptive file names. Ew.

It’s like all the words are mashing together. There’s no standard here. Some files could get named incorrectly. You may forget what you named a certain file, and now it’s lost with everything else. And trying to find what you need here, especially when you’re trying to find it fast, would be needlessly time-consuming.

Case organization and trial preparation programs are great tools for streamlining document review and presentation workflows. However, if the files you’re putting into them are not identifiable in simple and manageable ways, using this technology only makes the process more frustrating.

Consider the following tips when receiving, scanning, or creating case files on your computer. They will help you make life easier for you as the case progresses.

1. Know what your documents are before you put them into your working case folder

This may seem like an obvious one, but many attorneys don’t really know what they are copying into a case folder until they go back to look at them later. For example, a lawyer or paralegal may receive several gigabytes worth of documents from the opposition and just dump all those directly into their computer’s hard drive without glancing at them first.

When you do this and start working on a case strategy, there’s not a frame of reference for where to begin.

It’s better to take some time to understand and review exactly what you’re working with at a general level. What file types are you working with? How are things currently organized and how can it be better?

One option is to create a bulk folder where you can dump all the case files. Then, go through and review each one, pulling the relevant documents you want into a different “working” case folder. Doing this separates the important items from the fluff, and now you know anything in the working case folder is at the very least semi-important to your strategy.

While you review and move the items as explained above, you can rename each file, which leads us to our next few suggestions.

2. Keep it simple

When it comes right down to it, you need to name your documents in a way that makes the most sense for you. However, think about how you can make it a little easier on your future self as you reference and search for the items you need.

You want to name your case items in a way that you can know what they are at a glance, and you also want to make it easy on yourself when you and the opposition are referencing each item during negotiations or trial.

A common file naming practice is using a descriptive phrase to help identify the item. We said before how long descriptions can be troublesome when working with several hundred files, but even short, two or three-word files names are troublesome, because all those words still get cluttered together.

Also, keep in mind that most any organization software will sort your files alphanumerically. So, when you try to organize your files according to descriptive phrases using technology, your files may end up out of order, or at least not sorted in the way you want.

When using software, there are usually other properties or fields where you can enter more descriptive identifiers. Save the file name for more orderly and systematic identification as described in the next tip.

3. Rename everything with a standard naming convention

Yes, you read that right. Rename everything, and use a standard, alphanumeric system.

Maybe this seems a little drastic at first, but if done correctly, it pays dividends down the road when you’re referencing these items with your own team and the other parties involved in the case.

We would suggest you simply number your case items using leading zeroes as shown below.

Leading zeroes.
An example of leading zeroes.

The reason you should use leading zeroes is that without them, your case items may get disorganized. Case organization tools for the most part use databases to reference your case items. Databases usually do not read whole numbers, which means that the database orders numbers by whatever digit comes first.

For example, if I have 10 exhibits in my case, and I named each exhibit by its corresponding number, it would appear in the database as follows.

Whole numbers
An example of what a database would look like with whole numbers.

Notice the “10” exhibit is out of order right below “1”.

The basic rule for using leading numbers is that you use the same number of digits as the total number of your documents. So, if your case only has 34 documents, use two digits in your numbering system (e.g “01”, “02”, “03”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 99 documents before things get out of order.

If your case has 335 documents, use three digits in your numbering system (e.g. “001”, “002”, “003”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 999 documents before things get out of order.

What if you have several images that are pages of the same document? While we do recommend you use PDFs so that you don’t have to worry so much about this, you can use another set of leading zeroes for each page of the document like this:

  • 001-001 <– Page 1 of document 001
  • 001-002 <– Page 2 of document 001
  • 001-003 <– Page 3 of document 001

And so on.

There are some situations where you may want to modify this system. For example, you may be really attached to that descriptive phrase for each file. In that case, enter the exhibit number before the phrase like this “001-False Claims”.

Though your files may still get cluttered, at least you can reference them easily with other because of the numbers preceding the phrase.

What if the opposition is using the same naming convention as you? That means you’ll probably run into two different files being named the same thing. In that case, enter the initials of the party responsible for the documents before the numbers like this, “DX001”. That way, it’s easier to distinguish between two documents with the same file number.

There are countless ways to use the suggestions above to fit your own needs. Whatever naming convention you decide to use, apply it to everything. That way, when you need to find something months or years down the road, there’s no surprises and you can quickly find what you’re looking for.

If you decide not to go with your own numbering system, you might want to follow the next tip.

4. Use exhibit numbers or bates numbers

This tip is much more self-explanatory. Name all your items after an exhibit number or bates number.

The benefit of naming your documents this way is that it makes the transition between discovery, review, preparation, and trial so much easier. By using either of these numbers, you don’t have to rename any files as you transition to each phase.

You can do this even if you don’t think you will go to trial and it will still benefit you.

Now, let’s just stop for a moment. We understand you might have some other concerns about our tips so far. Let’s look at the next tip first.

5. Use the other properties of a document for more familiar, long-form identifiers

You might be saying to yourself, “Now all I have are numbers. None of these numbers really help me know what’s inside of a document without opening it.”

Yes, that’s true. The tips we’ve covered so far are for easier organization and reference. For identifying what is inside a file, or getting a summary of the file’s contents, we suggest you use other identification properties that case organization tools provide.

For example, in TrialDirector, you can use the Common Name field to enter a descriptive phrase to any file you want. So, if you and your team usually refer to an important letter in the case as “The Manifesto” you can enter that as the Common Name and quickly find it that way.

The beauty of doing it this way is that though your team may refer to a document that way, that’s not the way the court refers to it. But since you followed the tips above, finding and providing the right document with the right trial exhibit number is no problem.

Compound that with all the other documents you’re working with on your case, and you’ve saved quite a bit of time.

Conclusion

Implementing these suggestions makes it that much easier to organize, reference, and even import your documents into an evidence and case management system.

Properly naming your case files is essential as you work through the entire case process. Some attorneys often don’t put the right time and attention into naming their files, thinking that they’ll remember where the important files are, or that it’ll be easy to find them later.

That’s all fine, up until they realize that the case documents keep stacking up and suddenly they can’t remember what they named that really important image and now it’s mixed in with all the other documents, images, and videos you added to the case over time.

Often, by neglecting to put time into naming files properly, you’re making it so much harder to save time and reduce headaches down the road.

Learn more about TrialDirector and how it can help you by visiting our website.

How do you name your case files? What strategy works best for you?

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