The time to prepare for a business lawsuit is before you have been sued or need to sue someone. Keep in mind that most business litigators charge by the hour so to the extent you can present your documents to your lawyer in a thorough organized manner, the more cost effectively your business attorney can represent you. Careful record keeping and document organization are the best ways to help your business litigation attorney. Here are some tips on how you can do this:
Keep a Detailed Calendar. People do not realize how important it is to keep an accurate calendar of what they do and where they have been until they are embroiled in a lawsuit. A good calendar can prove where you have been and where you have not been. For example, in construction or breach of contract cases, it may be critical to prove how much work was performed and when it was performed. A good calendar entry which documents who you were with, what you did, when you did it, and where you were is invaluable to prove details you may not realize will be important at some time in the future. Similarly, in fraud actions a critical issue is sometimes what the plaintiff knew and when they discovered it. Cases will often turn on when certain information is conveyed by one party to another. A thorough record of meetings can also prove you were not around when information was provided because you can show you were somewhere else at the time. A good calendar can be in written form or on your computer; just make sure it is in a form that will not be lost or destroyed if it is needed. For purposes of determining statutes of limitations it is also critical to have a detailed and accurate calendaring system.
Keep Notes of Conversations. Judges and juries like note takers. There seems to be a common perception that people who take notes are thorough, honest, and reliable. A witness who says “I remember what was said four years ago even though I never take notes” is often viewed suspiciously. Critical information that should be recorded is: (1) the general subject or subjects of discussion, (2) who was present, (3) discussions about risks or concerns, (4) whether there was agreement or disagreement. An example of such a notation would be ” 08/13/13 – Met with John Doe and Jim Smith, discussed Mockingbird Project, I had concerns re soils issues, JD said experts approved report, JS said project would be done by Winter.” Most lawsuits revolve around representations, disclosures, promises and understandings. A note that will jog your memory or demonstrate to a judge or jury just what was discussed and who was there to discuss it can go a long way to proving your position.
Keep Superseded Documents and Unused Drafts. The intent of the parties is an issue that can often arise in a business case. Often the intent of the parties can be proven by what was deleted from or added to an agreement. While it may seem onerous to keep old documents and drafts, it is well worth it to even scan and store these documents for future reference in the event a lawsuit ever arises.
Prepare a Chronology for Your Attorney. Before you meet with your lawyer for the first time draft up a chronology of events for your lawyer. The chronology can include a “Cast of Characters” explaining the identities and positions of various parties and witnesses as well as a chronological explanation of critical documents, meetings and events. This is where your detailed record keeping will really pay off. You will be able to bring your attorney up to speed quickly by utilizing such a chronology.