There are probably as many different ways to prepare a trial notebook as there are ways to research case law.
The hardest part of preparing the Trial Notebook is incorporating the Order of Proof (or How to Tell Your Story) in a cohesive manner. One of the easiest and most effective ways to approach this complex issue is to rethink the process. Tilt the prism. Pretend you are writing the Great American Novel.
Remember, you are trying to convince a jury of your peers (who usually have very little knowledge of The Law) to evaluate your client’s set of circumstances. You also want them to consider the evidence presented in the most favorable light for your client to WIN THE CASE.
Most novelists engage the reader by addressing their hero/heroine’s Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. Every worthwhile plot will encompass these key elements very early in the story – usually in the first three pages. The premise for that being, if the reader is not interested in what will happen next, their mind will wander off in another direction to think about something more interesting. YOUR JOB in creating the ideal trial notebook is like writing that novel. You need to find a way to keep the jury interested IN YOUR SIDE of the case. This can be done with visual aids, dramatic opening statements, and the order (lineup) of witnesses who tell the jury about the case. Corroborating the story and the facts presented is the reason for the Trial Notebook.
Try to keep the Trial Notebook as compact as possible. One large 3-ring binder is recommended. The following is a sample Table of Contents:
- Opening Statement
- Order of Proof
- Key Pleadings (Complaint, Answer, Affirmative Defenses)
- Key Witness Deposition Summaries (one-page summaries outlining page numbers for pertinent facts)
- Answers to Interrogatories
- Responses to Request for Production (highlight key exhibits)
- Responses to Requests for Admission
- Pre-Trial Stipulations (both sides)
- Motions in Limine
- Research/Case Law
- Summary of Damages
- Offers of Judgment/Settlement Proposals
- Closing Argument
- Jury Instructions/Verdict Forms/Voir Dire
The above information can be arranged in the manner easiest to use during trial. Just label the dividers for the separate tabs (color-coding the tabs if that works for you), and put the necessary documents inside the tabbed dividers of the 3-ring binder for quick access.
You may want to do a “rehearsal” in your office to make sure all the information you need is readily available in the Trial Notebook. (Also include a zip-lock plastic bag containing a supply of yellow post-it notes, paper clips, and extra notepads/pens/pencils to take with you to the trial.)
One more thing: Keep a separate list of ALL witness telephone numbers, and a fully-charged cellphone for use at a moment’s notice.