Organization Wins! in Litigation

Use a SOP Checklist. (Tip #1 in our Top Ten Organizational Tips.)

The only way to keep your lawyer’s cases moving ahead without dropped opportunities, missed deadlines, and lack of applicable facts and law is to have a checklist-style Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP. Of course, you must not only have an SOP. You and the other members of the litigation team must use it and check off each item as it is completed.

Your SOP form Litigation Checklist is an affirmative model that organizes the case and moves it along in a timely manner. It gives all concerned a handy place to look for dates, what needs to be done and when. It’s no longer necessary to page through a pleadings and motions file to find a court-ordered date for, say, the last day to serve discovery. No longer is there any guessing whether the interrogatories have been served, or which witnesses need subpoenas. You and the rest of the team can look at the checklist and quickly find the basic past and future dates and events in the life of the case.

The short version of our Tip #1: If you don’t have an SOP litigation checklist form — get one!

Obtain the Client’s Help to Build Your Trial Notebook. (Tip #5 in our Top Ten Organizational Tips.)

Your client frequently has information you need for the trial notebook. Instead of taking the time needed to ask the client a series of questions, give the client instructions to complete a form before the interview. For example, hand prospective personal injury clients a Checklist of Plaintiff’s Bodily Injuries. Place the completed checklist in your trial notebook.

Before clients have their deposition taken, send them the same checklist to fill out again and bring to the office for pre-deposition work up. Tell them you want a new form completed because you want to see what they can remember now. Ask them to seriously consider all the items the other side might ask about, and to think about and remember everything about the injury. It gives the client a jump-start on getting ready to testify effectively. Your clients will have had the benefit of thinking about their injuries and what they want to tell the other side about those injuries.

There are four important attributes of a Checklist of Plaintiff’s Bodily Injuries.

  • Keep It Short. Checklists you want for your own trial notebook should be compact one-sheet forms. I am not talking about the initial multipage form that you might use to gather all of the information from your client. I am talking about the specific pages that you want for your trial notebook. Each separate form should be one sheet. Your trial notebook is not a file folder. It’s a place where you have concise information.
  • Use a Check Off System. The forms you give your clients to fill out should have a “check-the-box” type of listing or some other format that reminds clients to think about the specific items you want to know about.
  • Ask One Critical Question. Avoid being blindsided by a devastating cross-examination of your client. Think about the one most effective area of adverse questioning that could exist, and then ask your client on your form the question that will let you know whether that danger exists.
  • Leave Space for Writing. The checklist for your trial notebook should have a short space for a narrative. The narrative helps avoid omissions and allows clients to express items they think are important. Leave only a small space for writing since this is a document for your trial notebook.