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Personal Injury Case: Thoughts on Trial Preparation

An old trial adage is that it takes four (4) hours of preparation for every hour of trial.  The reality is that it often takes fare more hour than that to adequately prepare for the trial of a personal injury case.  In our office every case that we agree to represent is potentially a trial.  No cases come in that we agree to take only if we can settle them.  This mentality creates an outlook towards trial preparation that begins from the first day a case is in our office. How do you begin correctly to prepare a case from the first day — its a mindset.  First, everything you do from the first investigation of the case to the final witness preparation all affects the final outcome. Often the early investigation, from witness statements and photographs to discussions with the investigating officer makes all the difference months and years later during the trial.  Our office employs experienced investigators who take those early witness statements, not just from witnesses to the collision, but from family members who will testify later about their experiences.  We take pictures of both vehicles whenever possible to have an accurate depiction of the actual damage in the wreck.  Our investigators always work with the attorney to find out whether there will be questions about liability early in the case. Every discussion with the client, every phone call to an adjuster or defense attorney needs to be characterized for easy review prior to trial.  Part of trial preparation is the endless motions practice where those who prepare well and put their client in the best possible position will be ready to prevail.  Case review is essential for all of the above. In the weeks and months prior to trial periodic review of the information gathered in deposition and mediation is essential to deciding what next step must be taken.  Often the worst thing an attorney can do is have a great idea about the next step to be taken that could assist his client, but waits to close to trial to begin putting the steps together.  Experienced lawyers will tell you that you must begin early. In personal injury cases, often there is a lot of documents that must be obtained in order to have your damages proven at trial.  Lost wages, doctor opinions, property damage information, etc must be put together early to have someone available to get the documents admitted. Organization is quite often the difference between experienced lawyers and those who are learning to try cases.  Not just having the documents, pictures and depositions put together, but deciding how to put them together and in what order is essential.  My office only uses electronic document storage and organization, therefore, we began several years ago or order all of our depositions in electronic format to keep all of our trial information in the same organizational framework.  Most electronic systems also allow you to search every document, file, deposition etc within a file for key words.  This allows for easier trial preparation and allows, via laptop in a deposition to get to essential issues and questions. Finally, regardless of the type of trial organization you prefer, if you have not frequently reviewed your information in preparation for trial, you will have difficulty getting all your information ready for trial.

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