Welcome to episode 6 of the Small Law podcast. Yeah, I know episode 7 came out before episode 6. All 8 people who actually listen to this podcast are surely going to be so so angry this. But, today’s discussion will hopefully make you forget that I accidentally published episode 7 when I meant to just schedule it for release after this episode. Oh well.
A tip for trial lawyers – the debrief
Some people may call them their autopsy or the post-trial report. Doesn’t matter what you call it. But I’m going to call it a debrief.
As you practice over the years, you learn from your mistakes. For instance, don’t ask a question if you don’t already know the answer. I learned that the hard way—in trial, with a corporate rep on the stand. I asked a question and I got a very favorable answer. But I was lucky. I remember my gut being tied in knots during his answer.
But, as you begin to practice and do more cases- you will forget stuff. You will remember a lot more than you think you will remember, but you will indeed forget a lot of stuff. So, I recommend the debrief. Here’s what I do. It’s pretty simplistic, and probably could be automated in some ways if you have a high volume practice.
First, I set up a separate folder on my server called Debriefs. After each case I handle concludes – whether by settlement or by trial—I do a separate word document for each case. In the title of the word document I include the date – year, month, then day – the client’s last name – and then a brief description. So, by example, I’d have 2018.02.28- Jones – car wreck case against Allstate
So all my debriefs are in date order. If I’m looking for a particular client’s last name (that’s usually how I remember cases) I can do a simple search and the name will be in the title. But the best part too is that if I’m looking for a specific issue, I can do a word or phrase search for that word or phrase.
So, I just finished doing one for a car wreck case we handled. I’m going to change all the names here for confidentiality purposes. And I will say that this format can be adapted for any type of case you handle. Here’s the information I include:
Cause number, court number and location
Date of incident
Date of resolution
Insurance companies involved
And then after that, I do a simple recitation of the basic facts. My pleadings tend to be more detailed so I usually just cut and paste right out of the petition I drafted in the case.
Then I describe the injuries. I do use detail here but I don’t go too indepth. For instance instead of saying low back injury, I may say L5-S1. Or I may say things like two level fusion recommended.
Then I type out a paragraph about specific hot button issues in the case – things that made it a little different from other cases. If a discovery issue popped up and I had to file a Motion for protection, I may include that here. You ever have a case where you think “what case did I file that motion in before?” well, using a word search in your debriefs will allow you to find that case.
Then the last thing I include is a section for three things that worked and three things that didn’t work. Things that I should have done better or things I should do in all cases going forward.
There are several benefits to doing a debrief. The most obvious one is data. You will have created your own database to find out what typical results are for typical cases. I recently had a rollover case with a TBI against a law firm who I had a similar case against about 3 years ago. My debrief refreshed my recollection about some of the things that this particular law firm does during discovery so I could be prepared for it.
Secondly, a debrief also allows you the opportunity to improve by remembering more of the good and bad of a case. If you handle a family law case, you can actually prepare for some of the issues you may deal with the common trial tactics.
In the criminal law context you can track plea deals. I’ve handled criminal cases before and you kind of instinctively know, many times, who does and does not deal. But, by doing a debrief, you can actually give your clients real data. Instead of saying “that prosecutor does not give great deals on aggravated robbery cases” you can back that up with actual examples.
This takes a bit of time, of course. And a commitment. But, I have been doing this for years for my own cases. I think you’ll find it very rewarding.
I hope this helps. If you found this helpful, please hit the like button or share it on social media. If you do that, Tag me on twitter @donivanflowers and thanks again for listening.