|Document Management (in preparation for Trial), By Ted Brooks|
|The Options: Paper v. Digital
It has been said, "Documents are the lifeblood of the Legal World." Through the years, the trees have cried out for justice- or at least maybe for a better way to deal with the massive quantity of documentation handled by lawyers, paraprofessionals, and staff, in preparation for and presentation of legal matters great and small. Additionally, the court system itself is working very aggressively in adopting the use of digital document presentation, and encourages using alternatives to paper-shuffling in court. One of the main reasons for this motivation appears to lie within the efficiency of the digital document trial, allowing exhibits to be displayed to all parties simultaneously, highlighting and zooming in on any given selection, at any given time, as opposed to having several binders passed to and from witnesses, Judge, jurors, and Counsel.
Where to Begin: Existing Databases
This entire process has evolved rapidly through the past few years, as has the hardware and software required to prepare it and bring it to court. In many cases, existing databases, some originally developed several years ago, must be utilized in preparing the exhibits for trial. In some instances, much of this data is unusable. However, every effort should be made to avoid duplication of labor whenever possible.
How to Begin: Exhibit Identification
In preparation for trial, whether reviewing a wall of banker's boxes containing paper documents, or running complex Electronic Discovery (E-Discovery) searches on hard drives or other media, the goal is to cull a large universe of documents down to a manageable size, selecting and including only the most valuable documents for inclusion as Trial Exhibits. Since it is best to begin this process early for numerous reasons, even before exhibit numbers are assigned, a method of identification should be employed at an early stage of preparation. There is an alternative to assigning exhibit numbers to documents that are identified as valuable to the case.
When to Begin: Trial Database Development
That is to begin assigning the documents a temporary point of reference, such as a file name. Even though it may be too early to assign an exhibit number, it is never too early to pass the documents to a database developer to place them in an organized, searchable format. This then can rather easily be converted to trial exhibit numbers, by simply adding and completing a cross-referencing database field.
The Trial: Exhibit Presentation
When this is all done properly, it is very easy and efficient to bring any trial exhibit to the courtroom monitors within seconds of the request. Even better is the prepared argument, with exhibits, demonstratives, and even deposition video clips, using barcodes and/or numbering systems to retrieve the materials. Often, particularly in instances of impeachment, all the preparation in the world will not uncover the "Golden Nugget." When the witness does impeach himself, the document must be available instantly upon request. Thus, the cross-referencing exhibit numbering systems are very valuable, and worth every minute devoted to their development.
No matter which method(s) you choose to employ, try to avoid pondering how it might have turned out with better and earlier preparation. It simply is not reasonable to pass a huge volume of documents to a Legal Technology vendor or other Litigation Support person two or three weeks away from trial. Although many miracles have been pulled off, it is certainly not a prudent way to operate. If there is even a remote chance your case will go to a hearing, mediation, arbitration or trial, any time it takes for preparation to that end is time well spent. Even in settlement talks and smaller hearings, it can make all the difference in the world if you show up with the sledgehammer, ready to go to battle. The intimidation and showing of your preparedness for trial can have a strong impact on your opponent.