My Court Case
Starting in June 2010 I was involved in a civil case. What about? Money, honey. After a year of trading affidavits and unsuccessful negotiations, we went to full trial in open court. Over the course of six weeks, a total of 16 witnesses took the stand. Four sets of lawyers (five by the time the trial ended), including two senior counsel, plus court hearing costs, added up to over $40,000 a day in expenses. The national newspaper tracked the story and the story even got picked up by a number of random blogs.
The documentary evidence occupied twenty-two volumes of paper folders containing over 2000 documents spanning 7,326 pages.
More than a year later, in August 2011, the trial ended. The judge dismissed all the opponent claims and awarded my side just about everything we asked for, and more.
I used several applications to manage the evidence. The primary tool was Evernote. In a supporting role, we also used Dropbox, Mindnode, TimeLine3D, Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.
Here's how I used those tools to help cut costs, marshall arguments, optimize my interactions with lawyers, and win the case.
The Incumbent: CasemapCasemap
by LexisNexis has all the charm and effectiveness of a Soviet tank. It manages lawsuits by brute force: every argument
is recorded into a hierarchy of issues
; every issue
is supported by a set of facts
; every fact
is grounded in a document
. Along the way, the dramatis personae
go into a persons
table. It feels a lot like a hypertrophied MS Access application. The TimeMap extension throws up your case history in a timeline whose graphic design conventions reminded me of an eight grade science fair.
Twelve years after its debut, Casemap finds daily use in large law firms which also have all the charm and effectiveness of the Soviet military bureaucracy. Casemap outputs affidavits the way Photoshop exports JPEGs. It deserves its leading position in the ecosystem: it helps you structure your thinking, marshall evidence, and get new members of a legal team rapidly up to speed.
But as a knowledge management tool it feels like a dinosaur about to topple. I built an 80% approximation to Casemap using a nimble, mostly free team of small mammals.
Tools I Didn't Use: Zotero and MacJournal
First, the tool I didn't use: by all accounts Zotero is pretty awesome for academic researchers, and if the majority of my resources were online rather than actual paper documents, I would probably be using it now.
See also http://www.themaclawyer.com/2009/07/articles/product-reviews/macjournal-for-attorneys/
Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500
Liberate all your paper documents onto the computer.
Begin by scanning one folder at a time. My rule is one PDF per staple. For efficiency I defer the OCR to an overnight batch using Adobe Acrobat Pro, or you can just leave that job to Evernote.
Write onto each paper folder the time you scanned it. Place papers back into the folder in order of time scanned. After uploading the PDFs to Evernote, bulk-tag the scanned files with the name of the folder it came from, so that when you next need to go from soft to hardcopy, you know where to find it.
There's no need to muck with the filenames: an ISO8601 format of YYYYMMDDHHMMSS provides sufficient uniqueness. Sometimes I give each physical folder a corresponding folder under my scans/ directory. The Windows Evernote client knows how to watch subdirectories of scans/ for new material.
When you're going through your physical papers you may be tempted to assess each document for its relevance to your case. Don't. This is a layering violation. Just scan everything and examine them all once they're on the computer. The rule is, either a document is in the system, or it's not; a binder containing some scanned and some unscanned documents must be treated as wholly unscanned. You can deal with duplicates later. Without the confidence that all your documents are in the system you will flounder in anxiety.
Get a Second Monitor
Buy a second monitor. If you can, buy a third. The one advantage paper has over PDF is that you can flip through it fast, spread it out on a table, and pencil in notes. You can become just as fast doing this on the computer, but it takes the right gear and a bit of practice.
Evernote is probably the best general-purpose document-oriented knowledge manager out there today. If you didn't do your own OCR (thanks, Adobe Acrobat Pro!) on the PDFs, Evernote (Premium) will make them searchable anyway (yea, even unto the handwriting). The OS X desktop client has really smooth PDF integration: when you put a PDF into a note, Evernote spreads out every page of the PDF for viewing and for displaying full-text-indexed search results.
Tag each note in at least three ways. Source
tags describe where the hardcopy may be found: for example, "blue folder 12A". Content
tags describe the content or nature of the document: for example, "financial statements". Argument
tags associate the document with the high-level arguments and goals that it supports: for example, "restitution".
You can also tag for authorship
: for example, "by Smith".
Now that you've tagged all the documents, you can easily search in a structured manner: "I want to see all the documents that were written by Smith which support my claim for restitution." This becomes useful when, say, you're preparing for Smith's cross-examination.
I use "unimportant" as my catch-all tag, and "rescan" for anything that didn't come through well the first time. To find all documents that have not yet been tagged, use the search filter
Retitle your notes with YYYY-MM-DD and some text appropriate to the contents of the note. That datestamp and title will later go into your timeline. When you sort by title, you effectively get a sort by timeline.
The goal in all this is to minimize the number of times you visit a given document. Lawyers have armies of associates tasked to do the following:
foreach issue in (list of issues):
foreach document in (all documents):
if (document is relevant to issue)
then add a coloured post-it flag.
As any computer scientist will tell you, this is wasteful, because you've got an O(MN) operation with a slow inner loop. If there are ten issues, you loop through all the documents ten times.
The faster approach, obviously, is:
foreach document in (all documents):
foreach issue in (list of issues):
if (document is relevant to issue)
then tag it with the issue name
Now for the gang aft agley: new issues will arise, and you will have to revisit documents to add tags. But all the other tags you've previously added should reduce the number of documents you have to revisit: you can filter by content tag, or by date, or just do a full text search against the raw document text, and associate issues with documents that come up in your results.
During the discovery phase, your lawyers will collate these documents into one or more sets of disclosures. For each document, you will make a decision: disclose or not? Instruct your lawyers, as they move through the documents, to tag the disclosure status
of each document. If they disclose it, tell them to tag it with "disclosed 20110818" – that means it was disclosed in a filing on that date. If they decide not to disclose it, tag it with "undisclosed". This is useful because later on, when reviewing documents, the question will inevitably arise: "did we disclose this?" With the tags, you will know.
In a yet later phase, all the disclosures will be collated into one or more Bundles of Documents, which you will refer to at trial. In my court case, we had a First Agreed Bundle (1AB) and a Second Agreed Bundle (2AB) and so on. Each document is Bates-stamped with a unique page number within that bundle. By the time the Bundles appear, you will likely by up to your neck in AEIC drafting and witness prep, so find a volunteer to go through the Index to the Agreed Bundles (which will come, on paper, from your lawyers) and, for each document in that index, match up the appropriate note in Evernote. As a sanity check, that note should carry a disclosure tag. In any case, add a label to the title of the form "BUNDLE-1AB5-2345". That means it's in the First Agreed Bundle, volume 5, page 2345. That makes it easier for you to go back and forth.
Here's what your notes will end up looking like:Title:
2011-08-20 BUNDLE-1AB6-1315 email from meng to Smith: You're in my sun, buddy!Tags:
folder green 6B, disclosure 20110401, email, by meng, smith, sunlight
If I want to find the original, i know to look in the green folder 6B.
If I'm wondering if this has been disclosed, I know, because the tag says it was disclosed as part of the 20110401 filing. In fact, I know that it's on page 1315 of volume 6 of the first agreed bundle.
If I'm looking for all documents that have to do with the sunlight dispute, I can do a search for tag:"sunlight"
. If I know it's an email I'm looking for, and not, say, a balance sheet, I can add to the search tag:"email"
as well, as opposed to tag:"financial statements"
And if we're preparing to cross-examine Smith, I can add to that search, tag:smith
In a lawsuit, one makes arguments supported by principles and by evidence. I'm leaving the principles to the lawyers: my job is to produce facts and the documents which illustrate them.
Some arguments rely on others, so the computer scientist in me automatically prescribes an argument graph
whose leaves terminate in documents which contain facts.
MindNode makes it easy to sketch up an argument graph, anticipate rebuttals, and associate relevant evidence. Like most mind mapping software it thinks in terms of trees, but if you co-locate multiple nodes, you can mouse-select them at the same time, so you basically get close enough to a real DAG: a directed acyclic graph. Yay!
You can have multiple trees. Define each of your litigation goals as a root.
Give each node its own tag. Tag each supporting document with the issues that it supports. When you compile a given argument, those tags will become crucial to extracting relevant evidence.
Timelining with a Google Docs Spreadsheet
I'm surprised at the lack of good timelining software for OS X. I remember seeing a nifty Silverlight demo which showed stacks of thumbnails bouncing around and spontaneously reassembling themselves according to different organizational schemes. It's not impossible that a future version of Evernote could map all my notes on the X axis by time (created, updated, or in title) and separate them along the Y axis by tag.
It's theoretically possible to use Timeline3D from Bee Docs to visually represent all the documents in one place. As with Mindnode, the "Link" feature gives you one-click access to the source document, which is great.
Evernote exports notes to XML. I wrote a simple Perl script that parses an ENEX export and produces a tab-separated text file suitable for import into Timeline3D. Voilà, we have a poor man's TimeMap.
Unfortunately Timeline3D's import function is very bare-bones: while the presentation software has support for multiple event rows, the importer doesn't.
I gave up when I found that it was impossible to import multi-track timelines from CSV. Sadly, Bee Docs has the feel of abandonware: really easy features go unadded for months.
In the end, I did two things. I kept a basic timeline in a Google Docs spreadsheet; this tracked major dates and events. And I wrote a timeline-to-SVG tool that drew on both the Google Doc and the Evernote SQLite database. I opened the SVGs in Illustrator and manually placed relevant documents into the canvas.
Adobe Acrobat Pro
With Preview under OS X, you can add annotations easily. But you probably want Acrobat Pro for the OCR engine.
This is getting to be a little over-the-top, but you can also use Prezi to give your affidavits and exhibits a sort of semantic-zoom relationship with each other. You will need a Premium account to keep your docs private, though.
I didn't have time to do this.
DropBox and Spotlight
Evernote will sync a complete set of your notes in the cloud. DropBox serves as a backup storage solution.
Evernote full-text indexes all notes for fast search. Spotlight serves as a backup search solution.
In my case, we ended up using DropBox to store the PDFs of the Agreed Bundles as received from opposing counsel, and also for miscellaneous interlawyer correspondence, court orders, and other documents. If you argued that all of this should be in Evernote, I would agree with you, except Evernote has a 50MB file limit and some of the PDFs we got were like 300MB.
How To Compile An Affidavit
Your affidavit makes one or more arguments. Your lawyer (and you) will often want to see all the documents that have to do with a particular argument or set of issues.
Easy! In MindNode, you've already structured your argument tree to indicate which arguments visit which issues.
And you've already tagged, in Evernote, all the documents by issue.
So, whatever the argument is, you can start by making a list of all the issue tags relevant to a given argument subgraph.
In Evernote, filter notes by those desired tags. Sort by note title. Export all those notes and hand them to your lawyer with a ribbon around them.
For extra credit, shove them into Timeline3D if you're the visual type: you can print that timeline and give it to your lawyer as a one-page refresher.
You will run into some extraordinary frustrations when using Evernote. Its lack of support for inter-document hyperlinks is legendary. Skype has its own URI scheme. Evernote should have one too. I predict that if and when Evernote adds WikiWords support it will gain a whole new following.