Monday, September 12, 2011

Trial Tool: The Incredible Notepad

So often, we all get caught up in the latest gizmos and gadgets that we forget to utilize those battery-less, user-friendly, cordless tools: good old fashioned yellow lined notepads. They are not just handy to memorialize meetings and telephone calls, but also a real tool to use at trial. Lawyers often use notepads to record thoughts, and once those thoughts are recorded, they are typically as useless as, well, the attorney's thoughts. They are disregarded as waste, only taking up space on counsel table.

I am here to tell you, my friends, that yellow-lined recycled tree is my closest friend during trial. It sits in my lap in the courtroom, and I carry it with me day and night. For those of you that have your tablets and laptops and swear by them, I submit to you that my yellow abacus-age tool has never crashed, died, or had a techno-glitch of any kind.

For those of you who may not understand how a bound mound of notes can truly be so helpful, I will share with you my system:

On a full notepad, I write everything that happens at trial. I will sometimes stuff in loose paper I collect throughout trial. Next I take stickies and place them at levels on the right-sidee edge of the page in trial order, as follows:

1. Pretrial Motions. I keep track of each ruling, which will change the course of trial, what evidence we submit and which witnesses and experts we call. I refer back to these rulings when I do my final prep sessions with witnesses in the hall before they testify.  Be sure to doodle a picture of the judge's mean face so you can remember it later.

2. Voir Dire. I keep track of basic information about the jurors to choose the jury and target our arguments effectively.

3. Jury Instructions. Experienced judges will only allow argument on jury instructions as necessary until the next break to keep the jurors from sitting in a room with nothing to do. Keeping track of rulings on jury instructions throughout trial is useful in preparing for your closing throughout trial.

4. Opening. I typically outline our opening prior to trial, then add and delete parts after motions in limine and voir dire.

5. Witnesses/ experts list.  This is our condensed witness list with date and time of testimony, name of witness and telephone number (preferably a cell phone number). 

6. Direct/Cross-Exam. Keeping track of key points that support or disprove your position is obviously very important. I also record quotes, questions for other witnesses, and expert qualifications.  These come in handy when preparing witnesses and in closing.

7. Closing. Throughout trial, I note information important for closing. These are usually random thoughts, which I address later.

8. Verdict guess. At the beginning of trial, I jot down which jurors are likely pro-plaintiff and which are likely pro-defense. This can give you a baseline to see how far uphill you need to climb to swing the votes to give you the nine you need to win. Then, throughout trial, I make notes as to when I think jurors changed their minds. This is particularly useful during closing. During closing, you can then hit upon key points that were most important to opposing jurors. I also like to make a little bet with myself about whether I'm right, usually with whether I deserve the good tequila or not.

9. Verdict. This is the record of whether you win or not and what the jury poll results were. (Jury polls are key on appeal, remind your attorney to always request one pretrial.) If you win, you doodle rainbows and happy faces and puppies. If not, you write reflection thoughts about why you couldn't get the jury votes you needed. Sometimes the judge will get feedback from jurors and relay it to the parties. Keep track if it. Every trial is a learning experience.

Here are key pointers:

1. Review your notes at breaks to make sure they make sense to you. Clarify them if they don't.

2. Keep your trial notes in case you need to defend your billings to the client. Some clients still don't understand the value of paralegals at trial.

It's that simple.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  2. Thanks, Lynne. Coming from you, that means a lot!