After months of hard work, countless hours poring over exhibits and documents, and late nights at the office, your case is headed to court. You are confident that you will be ready when the time comes, but as the date of trial approaches, how can you ensure that you are really and truly prepared? The answer is simple: tackle trial preparation with the help of your support staff.
Trial preparation is a complex, on-going process that requires extensive planning, organization, and attention to detail. Your legal assistants, paralegals, and file clerks are an essential part of the trial team, and their input will help ensure that things run smoothly, both in the office and in the courthouse. Many hands and minds working together to manage the large volume of documents, deadlines, and information will allow you to be fully prepared to present your case with confidence.
Leading up to the day trial begins, what is the best way to prepare for trial and how can your support staff help you?
60 days until trial
Two months before trial, your team should be in the preparation phase. In fact, true preparation begins as soon as you are engaged by your client; however, here are a few ways you may prepare to increase your chances of success.
- Know the rules. Study and understand the rules of the court, instructions about the judge, and any other necessary requirements for pretrial procedures. Your legal assistant can assist by looking into the local rules and the specific judge’s standing rules and trial procedures.
- Review your pre-trial scheduling orders and your trial deadline calendar. Your legal assistant and paralegal should maintain up-to-date Actions Required (AR) lists and trial calendars which include all pretrial deadlines. Use these to stay up to date on the details and documents you will be handling. You should have a plan in place for the completion of all discovery and filing of discovery or dispositive motions.
- Schedule regular meetings and mock trials to go over the details of everyone’s involvement, develop a game plan, and discuss how everyone on the team may provide the best support. Determine what tasks are involved and who will be responsible for each task. Make sure a clear timeline of when things are due is conveyed to the team, and if deadlines change, make sure the entire team is aware of the changes. Remember, communication is key! Always ensure open communication among your legal team.
- If necessary, arrange a trial room or remote office set-up. Having a secure location reserved will give you the space to prepare your arguments and documents with your trial team in a private setting where you will not be heard by uninvited listeners. Consider a room size that will comfortably accommodate your equipment and team members.
- Take the initiative when looking into trial presentation necessities. Consider what items you will need to have and start preparations in advance. Preparation begins with fact investigations, file organization, and an initial discovery plan.
- Hire a court room technician, graphic designer, or jury consultant, if needed. If you plan to show exhibits, be aware of the rules to make sure your evidence and exhibits are admissible beforehand.
- Familiarize yourself with the trial documents. Be aware of the contents of the trial binders, exhibit binders, and witness binders. Make sure you keep working copies of the binders at the office. Make sure you are aware of the most recent versions of all trial documents, especially the exhibit and witness lists, which should all be clearly marked and labeled. Impeccable organization is a skill which will benefit the team in the long run.
Serve remaining discovery to allow time for motions to compel. The last day in California state court to hand-serve discovery is 30 days before the discovery cut off, which is 30 days before trial. CCP §2024.020. On that note, the last day to disclose expert witnesses is 50 days before trial. CCP § 2034.230.
- Draft witness subpoenas and notices to appear at trial. As usual, keep an eye out for impending deadlines for these items.
- Determine your preference for organization of trial exhibits. Would you like them organized by witness? By subject? By date? Find out how best to identify key documents and draft your exhibit list. You can also organize in chronological order, but this may be disjointed depending on how you add in new documents. Consider consistency with data entry, which is helpful when eliminating duplicates, and consider loading exhibits into searchable databases or somewhere you can search across the entire exhibit set.
- Determine your preference for trial witness organization. In achieving this, you must sort your witness subpoenas and create a witness chart.
Trial is looming in the distance, and there’s still plenty of work to be done…
Stay tuned for the next installation in this blog series that discusses the nitty, gritty details of trial preparation thirty days before trial: “30 Days Before Trial: It’s All About Teamwork!”