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Preparing for Trial During a Pandemic



The Coronavirus pandemic has threatened to postpone many in-person jury trials for the unforeseeable future. However, with remote trials becoming a viable option, attorneys and members of the trial team need to remain focused on the preparation and organization required to prep a case for trial.  It is critical to anticipate that each and every case will go to trial. 


Not only has the pandemic reshaped the way work is done, with many lawyers and staff working remotely, it has also affected the way cases are being moved forward; the response to medical records requests are delayed; motion hearings are not being set; and until recently, depositions were not going forward and trial dates were being postponed to 2021.


Various courts around the nation are experiencing extreme backlog due to court closures during the pandemic. Accordingly, the timeline on a jury trial being heard may be extended even further. With the business having slowed in many law firms, now is the time to dive deep into your cases: learn your case inside and out and search for the needle in the haystack, the smoking gun witness or the evidence that will encourage the opposing party to settle the case.


As a member of your litigation team, the following tips will help keep your cases organized and prepared for trial:



Medical Records:


-       Utilize file naming conventions for all medical and billing records received to ensure the electronic files are consistent. For example, "B" for billing or "R" for medical record, the date of service and amount of invoice – “B- Sharp 04.21.2019 $235.55” or “R-Scripps 04.22.17 to 04.25.2017 $20,455.09”;


-       Create a medical record summary that includes dates of service, the treating doctor/nurse/facility, treatment received, notes, and any recommended follow up treatment;


-       Create a medical billing summary that includes dates of services, amount charged, amount paid by client, amount paid by insurance, any adjustments made, amount outstanding, and any outstanding liens;


-       Create a medical record request chart that identifies the provider, point of contact, the date the medical record request was sent, the dates of service requested and the date the records were received.  


Discovery


-       Prepare a document summary tracking documents that have been provided by the client, produced by the parties or produced via third-party subpoenas. It is equally important to keep track of documents that have been served on opposing counsel and/or sent to experts for review. It is crucial to keep a clear record of what has been received, what is outstanding and what has been sent out;


-       Prepare a subpoena chart that includes the custodian, date requested, documents requested, date received, associated bates stamp, and any notes;


-       Prepare a discovery chart detailing what discovery has been propounded and received, what documents have been produced with corresponding verifications, and notes regarding any additional meet and confer efforts needed.


Witness List


If you are keeping up with the charts mentioned above, when your attorney asks you to prepare the list of designated retained and non-retained witnesses, you’ll be able to quickly put that together, because you have all of the witnesses included in your medical record chart. I like to draft a witness list early on in the case, and update it as the information and discovery is received.

 

Exhibit List


Attorneys have a tendency to try to include every document and written discovery produced as a trial exhibit. However, in my experience, judges are very appreciative of attorneys who only include their key documents as trial exhibits as this shows a level of organization and no gamesmanship. I highly recommend to all attorneys to identify deposition exhibits in consecutive order throughout the entire litigation, as opposed to repeating exhibits 1-10 for each witness.  This allows for a streamlined trial exhibit list as generally, the exhibits identified in depositions will likely be the first and most important trial exhibits. If you have not done this and your attorney insists on an all-inclusive exhibit list, I would recommend the following organization: documents produced by plaintiff, documents produced by defendant, third party subpoenaed documents, deposition exhibits, expert files, timeline, and demonstratives.



One of the best parts of working as a trial paralegal is assisting with the presentation of the case: to know the exhibits inside and out, to be able to find the needle in the haystack, to identify potential new strategies or visually compelling ways to share the story. An organized and highly prepared paralegal is essential to a successful trial.


Despite ongoing delays and postponed jury trials during the pandemic, there is hope for the future. Courts are beginning to embrace technology - depositions, hearings and trials are being scheduled and taking place virtually.  


As courts navigate through the pandemic and pivot from in-person trials to virtual courtrooms, the local rules are ever-changing. Accordingly, it is extremely important to continue to check the court’s website to determine which platform to use, and what the expectations are related to witness lists, exhibit binders (i.e. at least one set will need to be mailed to the court in advance of trial), and required technology necessary for witnesses to testify remotely (i.e. internet connection, Zoom). If you are presenting evidence at a hearing or trial, I highly suggest using a trial tech to assist with the presentation, organization and streamlining of this process.


If you would like to request samples of any of the documents mentioned in this article or would like additional information on how a trial tech can help with your upcoming deposition, focus group, or trial, please reach out to me at alicia@aquinotrial.com.


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