Saturday, September 30, 2017

What is a Trial Lawyer's Best Secret Weapon?

By Walter Whitman Moore

Can you guess what a trial lawyer's best secret weapon is? Go ahead and take a guess.

If you said, "a background in public speaking," you made a very respectable guess. Debating in high school and college is excellent preparation for trying cases, but that's not really a secret, is it? The same goes for: getting a good education; observing other lawyers' trials to look for do's and don'ts; attending seminars on trial techniques; and staying current on developments in the law.

I'll give you a hint. In any given lawsuit, a trial lawyer must typically keep track of:
  • Dozens of claims and defenses (e.g., fraud, estoppel), each of which may have three or four different elements (e.g., representation, reliance, damages); 
  • Hundreds or thousands of pages of deposition testimony, portions of which will tend to prove or disprove the elements of those claims and defenses; 
  • Hundreds or thousands of pages of documents, which will likewise bear on those same elements; 
  • Scores if not hundreds of discovery requests and responses; 
  • Numerous deadlines and projects that must be completed by those deadlines; 
  • Hundreds of pages of cases and statutes that bear on the key issues in the case; and
  • The time the lawyer spends working on the case, along with the expenses incurred.
Before you can try a case, you must know what you need to prove, and how you're going to prove it. You must know which questions to ask which witnesses, which documents to have them authenticate, and how to show in closing argument that you have proved or disproved the key elements in issue.

Now do you know what a trial lawyer's best secret weapon is? Of course you do. It's the ability to design and use a database. Database software lets you link issues, documents, facts and witnesses to one another, so you can keep track of what you need to prove, and how you're going to prove it.

Database software, used properly, not only saves enormous amounts of time, but gives you a unique command over the facts and law in the case. Your database lets you find the documents, testimony and authority you need instantly, and lets you prepare easily an outline of your trial presentation so that you will efficiently and persuasively prove your client's case. 

I have been using a database called FileMaker Pro since the 1990s. Whether you use a PC or a Mac, it will run on your computer. (FileMaker Pro will sell you an individual license for $329.) I have used it to design a number of databases that I use to keep track of witnesses, documents, testimony, discovery requests and responses, facts, law, time, expenses and projects. 

If you're thinking about becoming a lawyer, I strongly recommend that you take classes on how to use database software -- along with just about every other kind of software, including word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. And if you're already a lawyer, you will not regret spending your valuable time learning how to make databases, because you will wind up saving far more time than you spend, and you will do a much better job of protecting your clients' rights efficiently.

I've tried using other companies' software that was "made for lawyers" (e.g., CaseMap and Amicus), but they seemed to consume more time than they saved. There are plenty of other similar packages that you can try. However, I am really glad that I took the time to learn how to make my own. If you learn to make your own databases, you give yourself the ability to make software that works best for you. Give it a try.

But don't tell anyone. After all, it's a secret weapon.

Walter Whitman Moore is a trial lawyer in Beverly Hills. His website is LicensedToSue.com

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