TrialDirector isn’t just a trial presentation tool. It also serves as a sort of document management system that helps you keep track of relevant case items and information throughout the whole trial process. We want to help you know how to use this and other tools to their full potential.
One of the first steps when using TrialDirector or any other trial presentation and evidence management software is to import relevant case items into whatever tool you are using. However, the information you provide along with the evidence you are importing determines whether you will have an easy or hard time as the case progresses.
Most trial presentation software use a database reference files on your computer and help you keep track of the information related to each evidence item. Following are our suggestions to consider when importing documents into the software to make your life easier as the case progresses and as you prepare for trial.
Only Bring In What You Need
First, you want to think about scaling down the number of documents you want to import. Any given case potentially has thousands, even tens of thousands, of documents. You’re not going to use every single piece of that evidence even before or during trial.
We recommend you review and sift through your case documents and choose the documents you’ll actually be working with. Then, import those relevant documents into your trial preparation and presentation software.
If it helps to think in terms of numbers, If your case has 1000 documents, you should consider only importing about 100 documents. Roughly 10%. Much more than that, and you’ll have a difficult time working around all the documents you are not using.
Scaling down in this way makes for a much simpler experience when managing and prepping your files for trial.
As an example, think about what it would take to actually search for a needle in a haystack. How would you go about it? Would start picking through the hay one strand at a time? That is what many firms are forcing themselves to do by either working with physical documents or dumping all their case files haphazardly onto their computers. But if you break up and significantly reduce the amount of hay you would have to look through, it becomes much easier to find the needle (The file you’re looking for).
And don’t worry, you can always bring in more files later if needed.
Know What Your Documents Are Before You Import
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s necessary. As we already mentioned, case loads get rather hefty. If you just dump a bunch files into your trial presentation software without really knowing what is going in there, it’s going to be that much harder to find things when you need them, especially when you’re working with limited time.
It pays to put in the work of knowing what your files are beforehand.
As you review, re-naming your documents can have just as much of an impact on your ability to find them as organizing them does.
For example, think of enthusiastic cat owners. However they got to have all those hundreds of cats, they’re here now, and the owners better have a good way of keeping track of them. That’s why the owners use simple, but creative names for each cat. That way, the owners and the cats don’t get confused when the owners call out for one of them to come.
We’ve seen some trial teams use long detailed descriptions for each of their documents. While it may feel that that will make it easier to find the documents in the future, it turns into a problem when you add 1000 other documents all with very descriptive names.
That’s like the cat owners naming each cat something like “the one with the frizzy fur, black spot, and gimp leg.” Not very efficient.
You are the cat owner. Your case documents are your cats.
We recommend you go through each document you plan to import into your trial prep tool and rename it something simple and easy to reference. The easiest thing to name each file is its exhibit number or bates number.
Team and Computer Organization
A common problem with many law firms is organizing all the files related to a case. When a firm receives images from a vendor, the firm might dump all the files they received into whatever folder they set up for the case on their computer without even looking through and organizing what they received. These folders are generally accessible to the entire firm which means all the files inside are subject to being moved around or even deleted by accident.
As mentioned before, TrialDirector uses a database to reference evidence files instead of actually housing the files in the program itself. There are several major advantages to using a database in this way, but one of the disadvantages is that if the file being referenced is moved or deleted, the database loses it and TrialDirector can’t find it.
As you’ve probably guessed or even experienced, this is a problem. Don’t get caught with your pants down in the middle of a trial.
Without the most basic organization rules, all the thousands of case files quickly become mixed up and hard to navigate. By rushing the process of getting files into a case, you are setting yourself up for a lot of headaches down the road and precious hours of wasted time.
Regardless of how well you think your firm is organized, consider the following suggestions:
- Set some file organization rules in your firm. Even the simplest rules go a long way. Our general suggestion would be to set up your files so that you can easily know where to go to find what you’re looking for without having to dig through multiple folders just to get there.
- Communicate the rules to everyone. Everyone involved in the case needs to know where each case is located and what is allowed to be moved around and what is not.
- Create a separate, new case folder for each case, and only put the files related to that case into the folder.
- Divide case files into two folders within the main case folder: Exhibits and Depositions. Dividing files into these folders makes it that much easier to find what you need quickly.
- Copy the files to a new, separate case folder before sending them to TrialDirector or any other database or trial presentation program. Doing this will further mitigate any mistakes in moving or deleting files
This type of organization beforehand not only makes your life as a paralegal or attorney better in general, but it makes it easier when importing into trial presentation software.
Convert all your images into PDFs
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: PDFs make trial prep much easier.
Think of the PDF as a sort of universal language of all the other image file types out there.
Pretty much anyone can open a PDF file. So, if you have to give the file to the opposition or some other party in a case, you can avoid any back and forth that comes from that party not being able to open the file because you already gave them the PDF.
Sometimes courts require you to provide PDFs so you can get a head start there by converting all your files now.
PDFs are also generally easier to import and move around than other file types. They act as a sort of container. For example, one PDF file, even though it’s a single file, can hold many pages at once. So instead of having to move around or send a bunch of single page files, such as Tiffs or other image files, you can send one PDF file with all the pages contained inside.
Working with single page files carries its own set of headaches that we won’t get into detail here, but there is a little more involved when trying to get them into trial presentation software.
As an added bonus for PDFs, you have the option to reduce the file size with PDFs, making file transfers that much easier and quicker.
Do yourself a favor and simplify the way you work with documents by following these principles and using trial preparation and document management software.
What has helped you when using trial preparation and presentation software?