Two of the most important qualities of any successful paralegal are the ability to organize and ability to anticipate. Whether a small claims case or a complex litigation matter, the importance of staying organized and anticipating the needs of your attorney are fundamental to the success of your case. Two key methods of staying organized during the course of litigation include the creation and use of expert binders and timelines. Both items serve as invaluable tools during the course of litigation.
While the debate goes on with respect to a paperless versus paper office, expert binders and timelines can be prepared in either fashion. For example, a paperless version of a timeline would include formulation via a database program, such as Microsoft Excel. The paper version of an expert binder would include a hard copy method consisting of a three-ring binder with index and tabbed exhibits. Either method is acceptable depending on the preference of the attorney-paralegal team.
Although expert binders and timelines are of value in any facet of your case, this article will focus upon five specific areas. These include: (1) initial case analysis; (2) pleadings; (3) expert witnesses; (4) deposition preparation; and (5) trial.
Whether you represent the plaintiff or defendant, your initial introduction to a case may consist of an unorganized compilation of documents. Reviewing and sorting the documents will aid you in defining possible causes of action, defenses, and discovery to be undertaken. From that point, an outline of issues and documents can be developed.
Next, as noted above, determine the form to be utilized for your timeline document, i.e., database document or hard copy. The content of the initial case analysis timeline should be developed following an in-depth review of the police report, interviews, statements, photographs, etc. When crafting the timeline, include dates, event descriptions and corresponding exhibit numbers.
Timelines are also extremely useful with respect to the chronological organization of voluminous pleading documents. The pleadings timeline and index serves multiple purposes including capturing and recording pertinent filings. Additionally, this timeline can also be referred to by the attorney when drafting subsequent pleadings. Moreover, the pleadings timeline can also serve as a method to track and comply with response deadlines.
Another useful tool in litigation matters is an expert binder. The expert binder should be tailored to the speciality of your expert. For example, if an expert is serving in a vocational capacity, tailor the binder to include relevant documents such as depositions, tax returns and work records. If the plaintiff or defendant is receiving any type of additional benefits, e.g., Social Security, etc., those records should also be included for review. If the expert is serving in the accident reconstruction field, however, the expert binder should include documents such as the incident/police report, photographs, statements and site inspection. The expert binder allows the attorney-paralegal team to present evidence to their experts in a user-friendly yet comprehensive manner. Additionally, the binders can later be used by the attorney during preparation and cross-examination of witnesses.
With respect to deposition preparation, the review of expert binders and timelines serve as a blueprint for all information and documentation related to the case. When preparing for a deposition, therefore, the attorney can refer to the expert binder and timeline as both a chronology of the case as well as a source of information. This time-saving approach allows easy access of information crucial to the development of direct or cross-examination.
With respect to trial, the expert binder and timeline serve as a good reference for the attorney during trial preparation and trial management. Also, this information can be utilized by the attorney-paralegal team with respect to the exchange of exhibits and drafting of trial memoranda. The expert binder and timeline will also provide the trial team with swift access to all documents for use during arbitration or trial.
As noted, the creation of exhibit binders and timelines can be utilized in almost every facet of litigation. The system for the layout and content varies from one attorney-paralegal team to another. A paralegal, therefore, should consult with his or her attorney to determine an appropriate comfort level with respect to the proper format and layout.
Additionally, it is important to keep your original file intact at all times. Paralegals should update the expert binder and timeline with all new information and documentation as it is received. While the use of timelines and expert binders may enhance the likelihood of success of the case, they will most certainly decrease your stress and lost productivity time during the litigation. •
Christine Flynn is a defense litigation paralegal at Swartz Campbell. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the field. She serves as chairwoman of the litigation committee of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals. She is a member of the ethics board as well as the ad hoc committee for access to legal services at the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Flynn also serves on the Paralegal Studies Advisory Board at the Community College of Philadelphia.