South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 12, No. 4, Pg. 26.
Best Litigation Practice: Winning Case Chronologies
26BEST LITIGATION PRACTICE: Winning Case ChronologiesBy Greg KrehelChronologies are a tremendous tool to assist in preparing for trial and can help win cases. The very act of getting facts down on paper or in the computer clarifies thinking and tightens the theory of the case. Chronologies help ensure complete discovery. For example, they can identify which facts are disputed and link the crucial facts to the key witnesses and documents. They can also be used to identify which facts need foundation sources to render them admissible into evidence. Chronologies are also an excellent communication tool. A good chronology makes it easy for everyone on the trial team to share case knowledge.
Chronologies can be used in a myriad of other ways. Use them when preparing for depositions, when developing motions for summary judgment and pretrial motions, in settlement conferences and during trial. From the starting gate to the finish line, assembling case facts and pertinent witnesses and documents in an accessible format can put you on track to courtroom victory.
Despite such benefits, the effort to create a case chronology is often abandoned during the discovery process. Why? In almost all instances, work on the chronology ceased because the word-processing document containing it became an unwieldy epic. There was no way to isolate facts of particular interest or view them in meaningful relationships.
Even those litigators who do stick with the task of creating a chronology often end up with unsatisfactory results. Many times, they end up with a list of case documents, sorted by date. A document index is certainly useful when you need to get a piece of paper pronto, but it is hardly a chronology of case facts. Still other trial teams focus on facts, not documents, but create chronologies that contain just two or three columns: date, fact and source. These layouts are a starting point, but they fail to
28capture critical information about the facts that can make the chronology far more valuable.
Many litigators throw up their hands and attempt to memorize the facts or jot them down on legal pads. But this strategy invites disaster. Even the simplest of cases contains more facts than a lawyer can easily organize meaningfully on paper. Thus, using appropriate technology to organize and explore case information can provide a competitive advantage. Moreover, lawyers risk operating under a handicap if they dispense with such technology while their opponent uses modern technology to marshal their case.
What's the solution? Use discipline and modern technology to prepare a case chronology to be used throughout the litigation. Here are some simple steps to ensure your chronology lives up to its full potential.
DON'T WAIT -- START A CHRONOLOGY AS SOON AS YOU HEAR FROM A CLIENT
If you start the chronology immediately, it can be used to good effect very early in the case. From the first conversation with a prospective client, you're gaining critical knowledge about the problem that led the individual or corporation to seek counsel. Copies of the initial chronology can be used in subsequent client meetings to clear up any misconceptions and focus the client on any particularly favorable or unfavorable facts that don't yet appear in the chronology.
No matter how early it is in the case, and no matter how "small" the case may seem, as soon as your client has given you an overview of the dispute, you have been told more facts that you can easily memorize and...