Making a record: How to make your time line (and get exercise, too)

Time will bring to light whatever is hidden… — Horace

Here’s what you need to make a time line and discover hidden truth:

  • a computer
  • a three-ring binder (the cheapest)
  • a three-hole punch
  • your own Mess of Papers (see my 5/23/2011 post, ‘Gathering documents for your time line.’)

You’ve now accumulated a MOP which is currently on your floor.

The floor is my favorite file-organization surface: it’s large enough so that if you sit in the middle, you can distribute your MOP into annual, monthly and/or daily piles. Do so and then consolidate into one chronological pile.

Simultaneously–since the best filing on the floor position is in a semi-ballet sprawl, with one leg out and one leg bent at the knee–you’ll be stretching muscles at the same time you’re organizing. (Wouldn’t hurt to squeeze in some sit-ups, too.)

So. Sit down at the computer. Lay out a three-column table or chart. Call the document Time Line. Label your columns:

Date/time    What happened                                Document(s)

Create a second new document on your computer. Call it People Involved. Make two columns:

Person                                      Role

Now make a third document, called Case List. You’ll be switching among your Time Line, People Involved and Case List documents as you compile your time line.

Pile your MOP next to your computer. Start entering information into your time line chart in chronological order. Be detailed, even if some of the details seem irrelevant or silly, but be clear and simple–no need to be literary or express emotions. As you enter information from your MOP, you’ll probably remember other incidents. Put them in.

Whenever you name someone who is part of or knowledgeable about your story, switch to the People Involved document and put him in, with a brief note of his role (witness, friend you talked to, supervisor, guy who rolled his car into you, et al.).

If it’s someone who might be involved in your case–a witness, a guilty party, etc.–and you have specific contact information such as addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, etc., switch to your Case List document and enter this information with as much detail as you possess.

You’ll be giving a copy of this case list to your lawyer, so he’ll be able to refer to it when he needs to contact anybody on your behalf, or enter certain specific information into the lawsuit. This will save her a lot of time–she won’t have to call you or scrounge through the files whenever she needs this information–and saving her time means saving you money (if yours is not a contingency case).

You yourself will love having a case list. Rather than having to search for a friend’s vacation house phone number, it’ll be right there in your case binder.

Depending on the size of your MOP and your memory, compiling a complete time line may take you hours or several days. When you’re finished, print these documents out, read and edit them. Make sure they make sense and are a full and true report of the facts as you remember them.

I believe this is the most important work you will do on your case. Everything else springs from it. Everything.

Punch all the papers. Put them into the binder in chronological order. If you’re really compulsive and have a lot of paper covering a period of time, tab the pages. Now read through all of them and realize that any of these bits of paper could become valuable discovery that you’ll turn over to the opposition.

Also realize that if the opposition already has some of these documents, you could be embarrassed by things you might have said. I was: when the Skush-O’Briens produced their initial, suspiciously meager discovery, they included some of my e-mail exchanges with the Griggsby management company, e-mails I hadn’t kept. They were snarky. Truthful, factual but definitely snarky.

So from now on, your statements about your problem must be honest, unexaggerated and devoid of unexploded or exploded emotional devices. You’ll be leaving all the public dramatics for your lawyer.

Stick your Time Line, People Involved and Case List somewhere in the front of the binder and put the binder in an easily reachable place.

Now you’re ready to … Oh, you think now you’re going to look for a lawyer? Not yet. First you’ll need to do a little research on the type of case you have.

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