- Controlling the case and discovery process from the time it is initially assigned to you will make your job easier when it rolls around to trial time. Start building your witness and exhibit list and map out your discovery path from the beginning.
- Client storage procedures/Litigation hold - Find out if your client has stored information on their server or possibly an archive of any information. You will need to obtain pertinent information sooner rather than later. Outside vendors have quick and easy methods for collecting this data in one sweep. Make sure you cover your bases and send a litigation hold letter. Don't let your client throw things away and end up facing sanctions for spoliation.
- Initial background research - Easy (and free) places to get started: Local news - both print and broadcast; Google alerts - if you anticipate ongoing coverage of the incident; social media; docket searches; professional license search; public records; property records; building permits; police and fire records.
- Know your jurisdiction's discovery rules. Certain local and federal courts have limitations on how many interrogatories can be propounded and how many depositions each party may take. Make sure you don't get down to taking critical depositions and find that you have exceeded the limit. You can always apply for permission to allow additional discovery but the granting of the request is not always a given in some courts.
- Discovery log - Keep track of all your evidence and where it came from - production, third party subpoenas, public records. Bates number all documents that third parties have produced if they have not already done so. Parties should always bates stamp documents for production. This will make it easier to locate, list and assemble your deposition and trial exhibits.
- Witness matrix - Keep a running list including contact information and type of knowledge held. You should also keep track of where you found your potential witness names - did a party list them in discovery, does their name appear in a document? Make sure you keep any documents where there name appears in a folder (digital or hard copy) for easy reference when time comes for deposition and trial.
- Chronology - If your case is not one where you would be tracking events through a medical chronology, make sure you start one for the key events.
- Keep trial and discovery deadlines in mind - don't let them sneak up on you. That trial date seems so far away when you are first assigned to a file but it gets here before you know it.
- Make sure your trial team and your client are aware of status of discovery, deadlines and trial dates well in advance. Examine your pre-trial checklist 120, 90 and 60 days in advance of trial so you can fill in any blanks in plenty of time. It will also give you a good idea of what may be missing so you have time to get all evidence and testimony you need before discovery cutoff.
- Build a set of discovery and trial documents for your department or firm. Unless different pleading formats are required for jurisdictional purposes, by using the same documents or tracking system in every case it will make it easier for you and your team members to know just where to look when you need something.
Ida L. Williamson is a paralegal for the law firm of Cozen O’Connor where she specializes in litigation, trial practice, insurance defense, personal injury, premises and product liability and aviation law. Ms. Williamson has been in the paralegal field for more than 30 years and currently emphasizes on discovery, medical record review, research, mediation, and trial practice. She conducts medical research, legal and factual research, investigations and client interviews. Ms. Williamson also prepares medical chronologies, deposition summaries, pleadings, memoranda, witness and exhibit lists, digital and hard copy trial exhibits, and trial notebooks as well as attending trial.
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