10 Things Every Paralegal Needs to Do When Planning for a Successful Trial

How often have we thought to ourselves that we needed to be better prepared before the first day of trial?  When your attorney announces the case is not going to settle and you will be responsible for various tasks, will you be prepared? 

1. The best advice is, in the beginning, is to get your trial  team on board and have a meeting to discuss deadlines and division of labor as to who is the responsible team member to coordinate the various tasks.  

2. During the course of the case,  (and especially helpful to do at the conclusion of discovery) you should begin creating a list of potential trial exhibits.  I would suggest you save an electronic version of each potential trial exhibit in a folder on your internal drive (it will make it easier to electronically label as a trial exhibit as the trial date gets closer). 

3. After the Rule 26(a)(2) disclosures are filed begin drafting a witness list for trial using similar information you included in your Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures.  Often times there are late disclosures before trial so you will have a draft list that may need to be tweaked before it is filed, disclosed and attached to a Trial Management Order.

4. Sometimes in the Pre-Trial Order a certain date is provided for the filing of a Trial Management Order, in addition to other deadlines related to Rule 16 requirements affecting the trial.  As the case proceeds through discovery begin drafting the TMO using the information available and update as the facts change, pending motions fully briefed have been decided and damages asserted in the lawsuit increase or decrease.

5. Immediately get deadlines docketed in an Outlook calendar or in the docketing program that your company or law firm has to track deadlines listed in the PTO and TMO.  Pre-planning by scheduling is helpful to all members of the trial team and will avoid last minute surprises and stress!

6. Prepare a chart with the names of witnesses, with current contact information and availability for a trial preparation sessions to be conducted either during a telephone conversation, video-conferencing or in-person.  It is always helpful if the witness has been deposed to provide a copy of his/her transcript with related deposition exhibits to assist with a smooth and efficient preparation session.  For expert witnesses it is a good idea to review with them their report and supporting documents they relied upon for their opinion. 

Frequently (particularly if a trial date has been continued a few times) an expert report may have been prepared a few years before the case is actually heard by the Court—thus it is important to have a trial preparation session close to the time of their actual testimony in court to review their opinions.

7. Immediately upon learning of the trial date, it should be placed on your radar screen to begin investigating hotel accommodations and travel arrangements for out-of-town witnesses and clients.  Many times conventions book blocks of rooms at hotels during your trial, and it may be a challenge to obtain lodging for all of your witnesses.  Contact the visitors’ bureau and convention center in your area and inquire whether any large group will be in town during your trial.  If you need to set up a war room in a hotel suite you may be able to arrange for complimentary sleeping rooms.  Based on past experience pre-planning is crucial to insure your guests have a place to stay!

8. Another common request from the trial attorneys is obtaining a daily draft transcript of the testimony elicited by witnesses during the trial.  In some state courts there are no court reporters and the trial proceedings are audio recorded which often times precludes a court reporting transcription service from producing an accurate record of the elicited testimony (thinking ahead, you want an accurate copy to preserve a right for appeal).  Many court reporting services (after getting the Judge’s approval) will allow parties to bring in their own private court reporter for the duration of a trial so that a daily transcript and/or realtime can be made available to all parties.  Again, it is best to coordinate this request as soon as possible to insure the court reporter can be present for the duration of the trial and that you are provided a draft transcript in the evening.  In Federal Court the request may be easier to facilitate because generally live court reporters are present to transcribe the testimony during the course of a trial.  Usually court reporters will require advance payment for their services.

9. It is a good idea to schedule a visit to survey the courtroom to meet the court staff and access the limitations related to electrical wiring for the technology you will be using during your trial. Take your IT person with you if you will be using an electronic trial presentation program to insure she/he has the proper equipment, including extension cords for the courtroom.  The day before trial coordinate with the court staff to set up and test the equipment (it’s helpful if parties share the equipment─less clutter in the courtroom) to avoid any last minute glitches.  Many courthouses advise that you bring your own equipment while the Federal Court system has the equipment in the courtroom and you simply plug-in and you are ready to go!

10.  It is important to determine the location of your war room at trial.  Location may be the most important ingredient to having a functional and successful war room. If you are in trial in your hometown coordinate with your office personnel as soon as possible for the necessary space that you will need, including witness preparation rooms in addition to the war room.

If you are on the road you need to determine whether the hotel you are staying at is close enough to the courthouse so that you can easily access materials during the trial day from your war room.  Generally, most large hotel chains have suites available that work well for war rooms to house equipment, including computers, printers, copiers, fax machines and office supplies.  Word of caution─inquire at the hotel whether your opposition is also staying at the same hotel on the same floor as your war room!  Ask the hotel management about the stableness of the hotel internet connection.  Plan to bring a Wi-Fi card to have access to firm email and internet browsing in case your documents are stored on a cloud.

Plan for the worst and expect the best─you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.  Paralegals are the cheerleaders for the trial team as well as the conductors of the logistical symphony of orchestrating a smooth transition from theme to theme of the case.  Success is measured by the pre-planning and organization skills you provide in support of the trial team.  Regardless of the outcome of the trial, a paralegal is often the unsung hero on the trial team!

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