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Organizing a Trial Book

ORGANIZING A TRIAL BOOKLawsuits, especially those that result in a court trial, produce voluminous amounts of paper—documents, notes, discovery information, and so on. The worst thing a party can do is to become disorganized, which costs time and emotional well being, and runs the risk of losing some piece of information that could turn out to be crucial to one’s case.

Organization can be accomplished by use of a “trial book,” generally a notebook, such as a three-ring binder, in which all papers relating to the case are organized in some coherent, easy-to-find and easy-to-use way. This is something that you should start from the very beginning of your case and build as you go forward.

Benefits of Organization

As described above, the most important reason to remain organized, as with a trial book, is to have easy access to all documents related to trial. Not only will this prevent losses of potentially valuable papers and time wasted looking for missing documents, it will save time during trial preparation, allow others to assist one more readily, and convey to the court and to the opposing party that one is organized and well-prepared.

How-To


No single method of organization is “best” when preparing a trial book. What works for one person may not work for another, so it is important to use whatever system makes one feel most comfortable and most able to find the information one needs most quickly and efficiently.
A simple, inexpensive way to prepare a trial book is to use a simple three-ring binder with dividers or tabbed inserts to separate various documents. The size of the notebook will depend on the type of trial and the amount of paper, but be prepared for the possibility that more than one volume could be necessary. If this is the case, it is helpful to make every binder of the same size and color, clearly labeled on the exterior regarding its content and the volume number, and to use the same type of organization system within each.
Currently, some parties choose to use electronic notebooks, with folders on a computer organizing one’s information in the way section labels do with a hard-copy book. One who is comfortable with technology may find this method preferable.
Section labels again will depend on the particular case, but some common headings, with examples of what should be placed in that particular section, include:

  • Background—any initial information that brought the lawsuit about in the first place, including personal reflections
  • Case analysis—plan of attack: what law applies to one’s position in relation to the available evidence
  • Discovery—answers to interrogatories, with notes regarding how those answers will potentially affect one’s position at trial; independent medical examinations, if applicable
  • Pretrial orders—any orders from the court in response to motions (motion to extend, motion to compel, etc.) to provide a complete picture of the history of the progression to trial
  • Settlement negotiations—if settlement negotiations were attempted but failed, resulting in trial, the information gathered in such negotiations may be helpful in preparing one’s argument at trial
  • Depositions—depositions of any witnesses, so that their answers are readily available; particularly useful if witness testimony is inconsistent therewith
  • Memoranda—information provided to others (to lay out a progression of communications, and as potential proof of communications alleged); information from others—advice from colleagues, professionals, etc.
  • Correspondence—letters, emails, and recorded conversations or messages regarding the case; particularly useful to show inconsistencies with what is presented at trial
  • Opening statement—outline of what points one wishes to emphasize during the opening statement, so that nothing is forgotten
  • Witnesses—list of one’s own and one’s opponent’s witnesses, with information regarding each that may be important to confronting each at trial
  • Questioning—list of important questions that must be asked of witnesses; one may also find it helpful to include expected answers so that if a witness response is unanticipated a red flag is raised
  • Exhibit list—a list of exhibits offered at trial, as well as a copy of the other party’s exhibits (which should be provided prior to trial)
  • Closing statement—outline of which points to reemphasize during closing

Some trial books will have all of the above sections and more, or be more elaborately subdivided. Others will have only a few of the above sections.
The most popular organization method of documents within sections in a trial book is chronological order. Chronology is beneficial because everything is easy to find by date, which is imperative because so many things in a case depend upon timing. Additionally, as the lawsuit progresses, more documents will appear and need to be included in the trial book; chronological order provides a clear location for each document to be placed and, later, found.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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