How to Create a Winning Trial Database
Scene One: Inside a Doctor’s Office
Patient: Why am I paying you all this money just to get put to sleep?
Anesthesiologist: You’re not! You’re paying me all that money so I can wake you up afterwards!
* * *
Scene Two: Inside a Lawyer’s Office
Client: Why am I paying you all of this money just to put this stuff in a database?
Lawyer: You’re not. You’re paying me all that money so I can get it out!
You have thousands of documents, hundreds of graphics, and scores of depositions. How are you going to get all this into a trial database, and, more importantly, how are you going to find it and effectively use it at trial?
Follow these ten rules:
1. Choose the Right Tool
The software you use to view material in your office can make your presentation look amateurish when projected at trial. Use a trial database specifically designed for trial presentation, which will let you organize and display evidence effectively.
2. Start Early
Spend a little money when there’s lots of time, so you don’t spend lots of money when there’s little time. Get your documents scanned and organized well before your trial date. Synchronize video depositions to their respective transcripts, and confirm that they work correctly, well before you go to court. Pre-test all your files using the trial database’s presentation mode.
3. Organize for Flexibility
No matter how much you try to script portions of your case, things will change, and they will do so very quickly. One way to remain organized while still having the flexibility to go off script is to make virtual “folders” for each witness. Within these folders, put the relevant exhibits first, and then your impeachment clips for the witness. Organize exhibits numerically and deposition clips by page/line designation.
4. Keep File Names Simple
Avoid cluttering the name field in your database with long descriptions, like “9/14/07-stock purchase email” or “Photo-Construction Site 2008.” Instead, give each file a short, simple name. If you require a long description, put it where that information belongs—in the description field.
5. Organize Documents by Trial Exhibit Number
Throughout discovery, a single document can have numerous names. But typically, the court will order each party to create an official exhibit list. Take advantage of this; scan the documents on the list and name them using their corresponding exhibit number. These will be the same numbers the court uses to identify the exhibits for jurors, so if you use them too, everybody will be on the same page.
6. Make Exhibit Numbers Consistent
Not only must each exhibit have a distinct number (the prefix), but each page in that document must also have a distinct number (the suffix), and each document name must be the same length. You can achieve this by using “leading zeroes,” so the first document must be designated as 001 (if you have 100-999 documents) or 0001 (if you have 1,000-9,999 documents). Each page of the exhibit is then given its own unique, consistent number, also with leading zeroes.
7. Include a Date in the Description Field
The most effective way to locate a document is by exhibit number. But if you can’t remember the exhibit number, you will need options. Have a backup by including each document’s date in its searchable description field. Choose one date format such as a six-character format (e.g., 09-14-07), and us it consistently.
8. Sync Video Depositions
Synchronize your videotaped depositions to their official transcripts. This lets you search them using either page/line designations or key words. Name video clips as you would your exhibits–with short, consistent names. A recommended method is to use the deponent’s initials, followed by the first page/line of the designation. So, for example, a clip from Jane Doe’s deposition that runs from 100:02–100:10 would be named JD100-02.
9. Choose the Right Format for Graphics
JPEG is the best format for graphics and photos. The quality should be at least 150 dpi, or higher, if you plan on zooming in on a particular image. Give these files a consistent numeric name, as you would your exhibits, but add a unique—yet easy to remember—prefix (such as “g” for “graphic” or “p” for “photo”).
10. Prepare for Problems
Things will inevitably go wrong. When they do, it’s good to have an experienced trial technician in court with you to fix them. Having someone whose sole responsibility is to get the most out of your trial database makes you look good.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of California Lawyer.
Appeared in California Lawyer
December 01, 2009