In court, people are amazed at the intellectual wizardry of barristers. Their ability to be able to recall a page number from hundreds of pages of evidence seems beyond the wit of ordinary mortals. Much of this is due to sheer experience & practice. This is an explanation of the techniques used.
Evidence should come in a bundle of papers. This bundle should be paginated. Pretty obvious, huh? Let me explain the best method for organising it in more detail. Follow these rules:
- use A4 paper;
- only use one side of the paper;
- double space the lines on the pages;
- leave wide margins;
- number your paragraphs;
- number the pages of each document in middle of the bottom of each page;
- use a separate numbering system for a bundle of evidence, which will probably contain several documents (each with their own page numbering system); the pagination for the whole bundle should be in large easy to read characters in the bottom right-hand corner;
- make copies of the bundle for every party in the case and every judge/arbiter/person who decides the case. If it is a public hearing, you might want to consider making another copy of the bundle for the public or the press.
Page 3 of a document, page 58 of a bundle
This makes it easy to read the bundle page numbers at a glance whilst preserving the page numbers which individual documents within the bundle may already have. In the image above you can see that it shows the 58th page of a bundle but also that it is the third page of a particular document. This means that individual documents, whether letters or any other type of document should always be numbered at the bottom but in the middle, so that there isn’t confusion between a bundle page number and a document page number. Riveting stuff eh? Stay with me, the sexy stuff follows.
If you are preparing a bundle of evidence these rules make it very easy for the judge, arbiter or whoever has to hear your case to understand your case. Easing the burden on the person you wish to persuade goes a long way to persuading them! Of course, if you are in court, there may be directions from the court (which are Court Orders in themselves) as to how to prepare your bundle. If there are such directions, you must follow them. In the absence of such directions from your court, tribunal, local authority internal disciplinary panel etc., follow the rules above. The reason for the wide spacing and big margins is that they make it much easier on the eye to read. They also allow notes to be scribbled onto the pages in a hearing. If you do scribble notes in a bundle, make sure that you have an unmarked bundle for future reference. If there is an appeal, marked bundles will prejudice the reader.
If you are hosting a hearing of evidence, it’s a good idea to follow best judicial practice and require the parties coming to you to follow these rules. You can set them down in a letter to the parties. You may prefer them to agree a joint bundle of evidence. This does not mean that they have to agree the facts of the case. It just means that they will coordinate between themselves as to which document will go where in the bundle. This means that everyone can work from the same bundle, which is much more efficient. Of course, this is not always possible. Some employees may feel, perhaps wrongly, that they are being pressurised in some way to agree with their employer. Some people may turn up with separate documents anyway.
Now for the sexy stuff. You’ve got your bundle of evidence. Although beautifully paginated it is still a nightmare to read. It is very large. By the end of my barristerial practice, I regarded anything below 250 pages as a small bundle. The measure of your bundle will be the measure of your experience of this sort of thing. So how do you set about mentally organising the material inside it?
Firstly, locate the correct tool for the job. The correct tools for this job are index tabs. When I practiced as a barrister, I experimented with all sort of index tabs. In the end, I decided that these were the best:
Index Finger Size
I make no apology for the product placement. I am not on a commission! Allow me to explain why these are the best. Firstly, they are slim. This makes it easy to post several dozen of them all around a bundle, along the top edge, down the right-hand side and along the bottom edge without all overlapping. You will need to be able to locate them at a glance. Secondly, they are colour coded. The downside is that they are not that cheap. The cheaper solution is to rip up strips of yellow sticky notes and create your own but you cannot have the advantage of colour coding. This is where it gets sexy.
I found that in a two party case, 5 colours were required to code the nature of the point I was indexing. This was the colour scheme I used:
- Green: a point in my favour
- Red: a point in my opponent’s favour
- Yellow: a point of general context
- Orange: any point which became of interest during a hearing, which had not previously been indexed
- Blue: miscellaneous
I’ve never liked using blue for anything. It reminds me of the thieving Tory bastards. I digress… it is actually a pretty useful colour, being so distinct from the others. It doesn’t really matter what colour scheme you use. Use one which appears natural for you and then stick with it throughout every hearing you conduct. If you are hearing a case, you could use green for a complainant/employee etc., and red for the other side, for example. The main idea here is that you train yourself to associate the colours with the nature of the point you are indexing. Consistency is the key. Consequently, it is a good idea to have a very large supply of these index tabs because inevitably some colours will run out before other colours.
Now you’ve got your colour scheme, it is time to attack the bundle with the index tabs. At this point you may experience a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of the task you are about to undertake. I had these sensations in hundreds of cases. When you have completed the attack, you will have ‘broken the back’ of the case and feel much better.
You will need a pen that can write on the index tabs. It must be a pen which shows clearly against the tab and does not smudge. I tended to use plastic index tabs. Although they may not be super environmentally friendly, they can be reused, which may be a type of permaculture?
Read through each page of the bundle. If you find something which should be indexed, place the tab on the outside edge of the page. Since you will have to read the index tabs in a hurry later, you should put them in a logical sequence. Some people put them adjacent on the page to where the point appears. That system can work very well but it can make it harder to find them later, if there are others which appear on top of them in the bundle. The system I used was to place the first one at the very top of the page being indexed, the second one immediately below that lateral space on whatever page it was indexing and so on. This allows every index tab to be seen at glance from the front of the bundle.
For example, if the first point you wish to index is a point in a complainant’s favour, my system would place green tab on the relevant page at the very top on the right-hand edge. Number this tab with a clear number “1″. Each colour can has its own numbering system. Thus, the second tab in a complainant’s favour would also be green and would be numbered “2″ but when indexing the first point in the respondent’s (the party replying to the complaint), use a red tab and number it “1″.
As you work your way through the bundle that sickening feeling persists for quite some time but you slowly build up a set of colour coded index tabs, with each colour individually numbered. As you number each tab, you create your index on a separate piece of paper. If you are computer literate, you do this on a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets allow you to become very fast at finding material inside an evidence bundle. Organise your spreadsheet like this:
||Bundle Page No/Paragraph No
||X shouts at Y
||Y drinks X’s coffee
||Y tells Z that X is a loser
In this example, the forever fighting X and Y work in an office, which happens to be in the town hall. X is the employee. Z is another employee. Y is the line manager of X and Z. X has brought a grievance complaint against Y. In the evidence bundle there are statements from X, Y and Z and some other documents. Y’s statement claims that his subordinate, X, shouted at him on 1st January 2011. Although X may deny this, according to Y he was a witness to it. Therefore both of them are witnesses to whether or not there was an incident of shouting on that day. If true, this will be a point in the line manager’s favour, so it has been coded with a red index tab and numbered “1″.
This seems like a lot of extra work when you first do it but wow does it save time later on, especially with large bundles of evidence. Initially, you should organise the index chronologically. Chronological sequencing is by far the most useful method of analysing evidence. Inexperienced evidence handlers often overlook this simple truth.
This technique saves time for two reasons. Firstly, it makes it very easy to find the relevant page later on, regardless of what stage in the proceedings you are in. Secondly, organising material like performs a magic trick on your powers of recall that Derren Brown would be proud of. The very process of writing out the tab number and creating the index imprints the knowledge on your brain.
If you do this on paper it will work fine. If you do it on a spreadsheet, you can save the chronologically ordered version and then reorder the spreadsheet according to an individual column. This is very handy for large bundles of evidence, which may range over hundreds or thousands of pages. For example, you can reorder the spreadsheet to create a second version ordered to the complainant’s points. I have fought cases with five separate versions of the same index, with the result that I could find the page number very fast. If you can find the page number faster than anyone else, the other people in the hearing will listen to you very carefully because you will be the master of the material.
This may seem like an awful lot of work. It is. Case preparation is the key to any hearing. It should be 90% of the work required. The actual hearing will be easy in comparison. If you are hearing the case, it will allow you to write up your decision much quicker. It will be a lot of work the first time you do it, not so much the second time and by the third time, it will have become a habit which you perform more or less automatically. Time invested in learning this technique will be saved many times over later on.
Some people make the mistake of using larger index tabs and writing the point being referenced on them. This leads to a messy scrawl inhabiting the edge of the bundle, which cannot be referenced at a glance.
Having excellent recall of apparently huge amounts of data is sexy! It really impresses people and makes your working life much easier.