How to create better
case chronologies and legal timelines
case chronologies and legal timelines
As any litigator or investigator that’s handled a complex matter knows, getting control of the stacks of evidence, facts and legal issues can be quite a challenge. MasterFile is designed to let you easily manage case information in matters of any complexity to build stronger cases and ultimately, win more. In this short article, we explain how to create legal timelines for court cases, and case chronologies that can give you an edge in court.
Before we look at how to create a legal timeline, let’s briefly consider why you need one. Any matter inherently contains a case chronology and timeline of litigation events by its very nature: who said what, when – and why. So, although you naturally set out a chronology in every case, traditional approaches scatter events in pleadings, briefs, notes, discovery – and often, you’re mulling over strategies and insights in your mind! Even in smaller cases, this is not only taxing but also, the deluge of connections between events to keep track of means key facts can slip through the cracks. And that’s all compounded as your case load grows. We know; we’ve been there and we’re sure you have too. That’s why we made MasterFile.
MasterFile links all your key pieces of evidence – key extracts, key dates, witness testimony, relevant issues, facts and events – logically, in a dynamic chronology that’s always up to date. Any piece of information can be related or linked to another. For example, of the dozens of facts related to a specific witness, a few may also be related to a particular legal issue, while others may rely only on one key document for proof – intelligent connections that reflect and reveal critical information about the case. MasterFile shows you such connections in an easy to use, intuitive platform.
As Nicholas Davies of Whistler Law Corporation says, “One of [MasterFile’s] key strengths is the ability to look at the evidence in many different ways depending on the line of analysis one is pursuing.”
Now let’s get started.
The elements of a case are quite likely familiar to you. But how you approach them with MasterFile, and why MasterFile makes your work easier in the long run, is what’s going to be new. Don’t concern yourself over any perceived complexity – you’ll find MasterFile very easy to use after a little hands on time! A good way to learn, like anything else, is to pick a new case or one that’s just begun and just dive right in!
Players are people and entities related to the case, including parties, witnesses, attorneys, etc. In MasterFile, they’re each assigned an optional role, for example, attorney, client, etc.
Issues and Topics
Issues and Topics are elements of the claims and defenses in your case. Issues and topics let you group facts by whatever logical organization makes sense. For example, creating a topic called “Key Facts” or “Hot documents” lets you instantly pull up a list of the most important facts or hot documents in the case.
Facts are, of course, the cornerstone of your case. In MasterFile, a fact’s summary field lets set out what happened and why. And its “sources” field automatically links the underlying evidence. Facts with a time based element can have times and dates assigned. And most importantly, facts are linked to case issues and players, and substantiate your notes and arguments exactly where citations are needed to prove what happened and why. Any fact can be quickly browsed to in a click or two, and by virtue of its links to case entities and issues, its relevance and role seen at a glance
Linked evidence is any file related to your case: legal documents, transcripts, email, PDFs or graphic images – any file type. Like facts, a document’s summary field lets you enter a description and other notes. Key aspects of a document’s meta data (exact date, type, author, custodian, etc.) is automatically referenced when you link evidence which lets you easily map out what you need to substantiate each fact.
Linked extracts are key fragments of documents used to prove specific facts. For example, if the Doe deposition proves several facts, you simply highlight each line or paragraph as you’re reviewing and that fragment is linked to the fact it substantiates in one click, including the deposition extract’s page and line number. MasterFile’s extracts hold your key information and proof and its Extract views show you all key case material at a glance – a deeper analysis starting where document review tools typically stop.
We’ve put together these five steps as best practices to help you create your case’s legal timeline more efficiently and more effectively.
In this first step of creating a legal timeline, add all players (witnesses, lawyers, experts, organizations, etc.) as player keywords. Include whoever has authored a document or is relevant to some fact. Don’t worry if you miss some as you can always add them later, but starting with a good list will greatly speed up loading and classifying documents and evidence. You can optionally add roles to add relevance and context.
The next step, creating issues, is perhaps the most important aspect of your case analysis and strategy. Issues link probative facts as you identify them, and automatically form the case’s issue outline which assists you when structuring your strategy and argument.
For any issues including legal issues that need to be addressed or can affect the outcome of your case or investigation, create an issue keyword. In a torts case, for example, the elements of claims might be causation issues or adverse actions. However, issue and topic keywords let you create any logical structure and grouping you need – even if they aren’t elements of, nor tied to, claims. For example, if there are several locations that are relevant in your case, such as branch offices, you might create general issue/topic keywords for each under a category called “Locations”.
Issues and topics can be quickly created with just a description or include relevance, impact and other criteria.
The prior two steps complete the basic setup for your case.
As you develop a deeper understanding, set out additional relevant facts and chronological events – even those not part of the event chronology such as hypotheticals, assumptions, disputed facts, facts from relevant authorities and research, and those needing further investigation. These will become the building blocks of your case.
When you review evidence and highlight key extracts, facts and events, MasterFile links the underlying proof automatically the moment they’re created. This is the cornerstone of the factual analysis process and easily done from MasterFile’s dual pane review mode.
MasterFile lets you create key extracts and facts directly from the documents that you will use to prove them.
You can drill down into evidence and facts by any logical grouping – by issue, author, custodian, etc. – in two clicks. As you review, MasterFile’s split pane review mode lets you highlight and create a key extract, fact or event in one click – each linked to its exact spot in the source document.
When you can see key information across dozens of documents at a glance, and can retrace probative evidence for any fact in a click, looking at your evidence from different angles too, is easy.
After all, what good are facts if you can’t prove them?
Or key material in a document, if you can’t find it?
MasterFile’s extracts instantly locate key evidence and the proof for any fact or event. And one click takes you to the exact page and line in its source document.
You can easily deal with metadata too.
Key metadata is pre-categorized so you can easily browse and drill down into evidence in one or two clicks. Need to see all emails by domain? It’s already there. Documents by specific authors? That too.
It’s not uncommon for even relatively simple cases to have dozens of facts, and complex ones, hundreds. MasterFile lets you easily browse to, or filter, facts or any sequence of events by issue, witness or date range, and more. You can search across your entire matter, and dive deep to explore connections that might otherwise have not been obvious: chronology software that goes beyond rote issue tagging. Collaboration is easy too, since you can delegate a precise sets of facts across a date range related to the specific issue of negligence and a particular witness, for example, to a colleague for review.
MasterFile is the legal timeline software of choice for law firms and attorneys that want maximum insight into their cases from intake to trial or settlement. We believe it will help you win more in court – and you’ll have an easier time doing so!
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