Trial Organization

One of the most important goals a trial attorney should have is the presentation of his or her case in a clear and orderly manner so that it may be easily understood by the jury. A trial attorney should strive to appear organized, in control, well prepared and familiar with all aspects of the case. This is only possible if the organizational framework is created early in the litigation and well before the actual trial date. Every stage of the trial should be planned and organized several months earlier and the best way to do this is with a trial organizational system. There are two types — trial notebook or trial folder — and they enable the trial lawyer to properly separate, outline and arrange all aspects of the case. The first step is to create and develop a theme of the case. This is the central story or principle around which the case must develop and which will be supported by the witnesses and evidence. To that end, the trial attorney should prepare an outline establishing the theme of the case and setting out how the theme will be proven during trial. The theme of the case should be outlined sufficiently to identify what witnesses and documents will be used, what issues will be addressed, and what will ultimately be proven at trial. Create a section in the trial notebook or folder system that includes the theme of the case as the first entry. Next, prepare an “order of proof outline” which will set out the expected progression of the trial. Include the order in each witness will be called to testify, as well as the documentary evidence that will be introduced at trial. The order of proof should identify all documents that will be introduced and should also describe how and through which witnesses the documents will be introduced. The order of proof outline should be flexible, inasmuch as the order of witnesses’ testimony may vary; nevertheless, the exercise of planning out how and when the evidence will be presented to the jury is very important. The trial notebook or folder system should include sections with outlines for voir doire/jury selection, opening statement, direct examination for each witness, cross examination for opposing witnesses, legal research, motions in limine, jury instructions, verdict forms, and closing arguments divided by each issue relevant to the case. Each section should be separately divided within the trial notebook or folder system. The jury selection section should contain a basic outline of the types of questions you intend to ask in order to select a fair and impartial jury. It should include a diagram of the jury box so that you may include the jurors’ names and comments about each prospective juror. The opening statement and closing argument sections should include concise outlines laying out what will be said and in what order. These outlines will guide you in presenting the opening and closing. Try not to read from the outlines since reading will detract from the quality of your presentation. The witness sections of your organization system should include an examination outline for each witness. These outlines will refer you to areas that you will cover during questioning. Direct examination outlines should generally highlight the key answers that are sought during questioning. The cross examination outline should pinpoint the specific areas of questioning where leading questions will be used to attack the witnesses’s credibility and/or testimony. Additionally, the witness sections should include copies of the documentary evidence that will be introduced or discussed with each witness, so that the document may be at your fingertips when needed. The motions in limine section should contain the actual motions that you will argue at trial as well as relevant case law and statutes. Similarly, the legal research section should contain relevant case law, statutes, and memoranda on relevant issues in the trial. In your trial organizational plan, you should arrange documentary evidence chronologically in the order in which you intend to introduce them at trial. This will allow you to find what you are looking for when you need it. Having a document that you cannot find during trial is the same as not having the document at all. You should also keep in mind that the trial organizational plan should help prove your theme of the case. The plan should contain everything that you need to successfully present your case. During the trial, keep your counsel table clear except for a rule book, a legal pad, pen, and the particular notebook section or folder that pertains to that part of the trial that you are handling at a given time. You should not have books, papers and pens thrown all over the table. This will send the wrong message to the jury. If you limit the materials on the counsel table to a specific folder and note pad, you are sending a clear message to everyone in the court that you are prepared, organized, and in control of the situation. Using this system will force you to prepare properly for trial. You should adopt and incorporate an organizational plan into pretrial preparation. This will allow you to be better prepared, organized, and in control of your case.