Making a record: Gathering documents for your time line

We stood aside, watching for any countenance we knew; and presently great bundles of papers began to be carried out–bundles in bags, bundles too large to be got into any bags, immense masses of papers of all shapes and no shapes, which the bearers staggered under, and threw down for the time being, anyhow, on the Hall pavement, while they went back to bring out more. – Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Just read a legal web site which noted that lawyers are disappointed when potential clients show up without having gathered all the documents they personally possess. So to placate these lawyers, get your hands on the following “great bundles of papers” that might be related to your potential lawsuit:

  • Letters;
  • Scribbles on torn-off bits of paper;
  • E-mails;
  • Memories (interrogate your brain and make notes);
  • Contracts and other legal documents;
  • Messages left on your answering machine or cell phone;
  • Calendars and schedules;
  • Checkbook registers.

If your situation is ongoing, start collecting pieces of above-type paperwork like a crazed pack rat. Anything may be important. An appointment with your dentist might remind you of a date related to your potential lawsuit. A bank deposit may be a reimbursement of a business expense which will remind you of a lunch you had at which someone told you something important to your lawsuit.

You’re collecting everything you know and remember about the event(s) prompting you to consider suing. If you’ve been troubled enough to talk to your friends–I certainly hope you have and screw them if they feel put upon–ask them for their recollections of what you’ve said and write it all down. This will, in part, make them feel important and thus kinder to you about all this legal talk. Team spirit in the locker room. Rah.

If you’ve e-mailed your friends about the troubling situation you’re in, print out every e-mail you’ve retained, and ask them for any e-mails they’ve kept.

About e-mails and friends

Earlier I mentioned Midgie Muldoon, one of my close friends, who filed a lawsuit against a former employer. Midgie is a great e-mailer. Her e-mails are not only terrifically written and very funny, they are very detailed. So when she started having trouble at work, she e-galed me and another friend with all the madcap office nonsense.

Unfortunately for Midgie, I am eternally optimistic, a great Midgie fan–couldn’t believe she was in real employment trouble–and a good computer housekeeper.  I.e., my bad, I deleted most of her e-mails and my replies. But another of her close friends, an employment coach and consultant, recognized immediately that Midgie wasn’t simply trying to entertain us. He kept all her e-mails.

Good thing, because when Midgie Muldoon was fired, her employer had her immediately escorted out of the building without any of her personal effects, except her pocketbook. She had not been able to copy onto discs any documents from her office computer.

So from Miss Midgie Muldoon, I pass on some huge tips:

  • Via e-mail, gossip about your problems to all your friends;
  • Try to make the gossip entertaining but it’s not as important as getting all the wacky little details down, even if you bore your friends;
  • No matter how entertaining you are, report truthfully, factually;
  • Re office communications: even if you think you have a friend at the office, when you e-mail him don’t be too sarcastic or snide. Realize that from now on, every word you put into printed form will undoubtedly crop up in your lawsuit. Think of what it will look like to someone who doesn’t know you, i.e., the other guy’s lawyer.
  • And if you e-mail from the office computer, automatically copy your home computer and delete anything on the office computer and then empty your office recycling bin.
  • Copy to your home computer any in-house documents you have on your office computer—documents that will support the contentions in your prospective lawsuit.

Then go back to Dickens (and the aforementioned Mrs. Valerie Scarwater) and throw everything down on the floor. You now have accumulated your very own Mess of Papers, a MOP.

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