I don’t know about you, but I can’t live without my calendar. I have my online Google Calendar, Outlook (which some of my clients prefer) and am still a holdout for the paper calendar. I know, I know, in the age of technology I still have a paper calendar, but there’s a lot to be said for it, especially for those of us who are visual learners. Also (and I’m dating myself here) but the paper calendar was always a huge part of malpractice insurance requirements; a second pair of eyes if you will. Do you remember the days of the “RED CALENDAR BOOK?”
Trials and Calendars
When it comes to a trial, you ABSOLUTELY cannot live without a calendar. AbacusLaw is my current favorite, especially the latest version. You almost can’t go wrong. The program guides you through the who, what, when and how of it all. It tells you what needs to be done and when. It links the parties and puts up a Chinese wall for those who are conflicted out of the case.
Trial lawyers love facts. They are the bread and butter of a lawyer’s life. Lawyers love to break out facts from supposition. They use facts to assemble the story, compile their witnesses, and gather documents and exhibits to back up that story. When explaining his case to his team, an attorney should be able to point to a timeline (or chronology – we will use timeline for this article) which outlines those facts. A timeline needs to be on a calendar. It’s a visual reminder of each step. Everyone involved in the lawsuit will use this calendar – lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, and even the Judge and court clerks.
Inconsistencies and Gaps in Timelines
As a very young legal secretary working for defense lawyers, I was taught me how to look for inconsistencies in timelines. Missing facts or gaps in time. Depending on the case, there might be two or more timelines, often intersecting, which are needed to tell the full story. One such case, which was later made into a movie (Julia Roberts take a bow), had so many facts and intersecting timelines that the Judge bifurcated it. It became 8 trials; with 8 teams of lawyers and took 8 years to complete.
Gaps, inconsistencies, or missing facts can usually tell you how credible your witness will be at trial. For example, in one of our cases, the plaintiff claimed that our client spilled chemicals at the back of the building he worked in, instead of disposing of them properly. The Plaintiff claimed our client had spilled chemicals on his hands which badly burned him. Plaintiff claimed he immediately sought help at the emergency room. He stated he was distraught, could not work; could not use his hands to do everyday tasks; and eventually was diagnosed with cancer. He stated he believed all of this was as a result of our client having [allegedly] spilled chemicals on his hands. The timeline showed however, that he had not gone to the emergency room until the following day. He seemed to have no actual burns or damage to his hands, and he had no difficulty filling out the emergency room forms. Later, at his deposition, he was questioned about these inconsistencies. When asked why he didn’t go to the emergency room until the following morning, he said he always played darts at his local bar on Thursday nights, and could not miss that, as his teammates relied on him.
Later on in court, our defense lawyer explained to the jury:
“Mr. Smith is here today to explain to the jury how this accident allegedly ruined his life. How he can no longer use his hands as he used to. How he is depressed, damaged, is suffering from cancer, and how this accident allegedly changed his entire life.”
The lawyer went on:
“Let’s just examine the details of Mr. Smith’s story so we can act accordingly, and see that justice is done for him and for my client. What was the first thing on his mind after the accident? Was it getting to the emergency room as fast as possible? Was it protecting his hands until his burns could be treated? No. His first thought was that his dart team needed him to be there for their regular Thursday night game. So he went there instead of the emergency room. Was he able to play darts with hands [allegedly] covered in chemicals and while dealing with painful burns? Apparently he was able to struggle through and play an almost perfect game. Only the following morning, after sleeping, eating breakfast, showering and waiting 7-8 more hours, did it occur to him to seek that emergency room treatment.”
“When” Is Often Just As Important As “What”
The famous question, often quoted: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” During the Watergate hearings, Republican Senator Howard Baker asked this question. (Fred Thompson, then senator, later Law and Order actor is sometimes credited with framing this question.) “When” was just as important as “what” for Watergate.
A timeline should always front and center. I am a fan of trial binders. I create a trial binder with all the most important information in there. The timeline is always under the first tab in that binder. I use a table, enter my question and leave space below each question to fill in the events. The next tab contains a calendar, with the actual events highlighted by date. So if a witness trips up during questioning, the calendar shows the correct date. This means the lawyer can explore the inconsistency and often prove his case right there. For example: maybe the store was closed on the day the plaintiff said he stopped there for gas. Only when the facts are placed on a calendar do they really come to life.
Always Put Your Trial On A Calendar
Put your trial on a calendar Some holidays are the same day every year. However, some holidays—such as Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving— change from year to year. In addition, many witnesses put what they are doing each day on social media. Many post their activities on Facebook with no understanding that there is no expectation of privacy. Not all jurisdictions allow for use of social media posts, but I believe that time is not far off.