When a law firm agrees to take on a case, there is no guarantee that the case will go to trial. In fact, many disputes are settled long before they get close to reaching the courtroom. However, a good law firm will prepare for each and every case as if it was going all the way to trial.
Getting a case ready for trial is a team effort. While the lead attorney has the most important role, they are assisted by associates, analysts, paralegals and others. As the team grows larger, the role of the coordinating person in charge becomes more important. If the management of the team’s workflow is inefficient, then both time and money will be wasted.
Building a theory
The first main goal of the legal team is to prepare a theory of the case. This theory will drive all actions going forward, from consulting with clients to putting together documents and strategies for the courtroom itself. A good idea for an attorney is to write down what they believe happened in the case and then to work from there. The attorney develops a theory of liability or a theory of defense, depending on which side the case they are on.
If the attorney is unable to put together a theory of liability or defense based on what they believed actually happened, they likely do not have a case. If they do have a theory, then the rest of their time going forward should be spent backing it up and reinforcing it.
The lead attorney
In almost all law firms, the team effort is a top-down process. Someone is in charge, and that person is responsible for directing the team members lower on the pyramid. The lead attorney is the person who is going to get the lion’s share of the credit or blame when the case is resolved one way or another, and their role is absolutely critical. Communication is critical in all aspects of developing the case, and different lead attorneys have different systems for staying in touch with everyone on the team from paralegals to associates.
A consistent method of communication is best. Some lead attorneys send out regular emails, and some do everything face to face. Checking in at least twice a week is a good idea in the early stages of a case, but as the trial date approaches, it’s best for the lead attorney to talk to each of their team members once a day. It’s usually best if a system of communication is worked out at the beginning of a case and everyone knows what to expect.
Especially in cases that are highly technical, lead attorneys will work from lists or templates that ensure that none of the main areas of preparation are missed. This is where experienced and organized lawyers have an advantage; having worked similar cases in the past means that it’s possible to develop comprehensive systems for handling them.