Category Archives: Giving Instructions to Your Lawyer

How to deliver the Document Bundle to Your Lawyer

Question. In what form and on what media should you deliver the document bundle to your lawyer?

By “form” I mean in what format the documents should be delivered. By way of example, whether the documents are to be delivered by hard copy, or in electronic format.  If they are to be delivered in electronic format, whether they be delivered:

  1. in native format, that is in the form in which they were created (eg. .doc [word], .rtf [word],.msg [email] .pst [email],.xls [excel]; or
  2. in an image format, that is in form in which an electronic image has been made of a hard copy document or a native format document ( eg. .pdf [acrobat] or .tif [Tiff], or which exists in that form natively (eg, photographs taken in .jpg, .pcx, .raw or other image format)

By “media”  I mean upon what media the document bundle will be delivered. By way of example, hard copy documents are normally delivered on paper media. Electronic documents can be delivered on CDROM, USB Disk, Tape, or electronically by email (as an attachment or by way of link where documents can be uploaded or downloaded.

Answer.  You first need to ask your lawyer how he would prefer to receive the documents. If he has not adopted electronic technology he may only be able to accept hard copy.   In that case, ideally each document should be provided to him in a folder with a contents list and where each document delimited by a tab.

Hopefully, his firm has adopted electronic technology  in which case there is a lot more flexibility in the form and the media on which the bundle is provided to him. The choice of form and media will  depend upon your and his capabilities.

In most cases the media is not important. Your lawyer should be able to handle it.  However, I would not generally recommend providing the document bundle on a tape format unless your “technical guy” talked to his “technical guy” before hand.

The purpose of this post, is to explain how I would prefer to receive the document bundle in order to reduce my time and the cost to you in my review.

Hard Copy Documents

I prefer:

  1. to receive all hard copy documents electronically.
  2. that each hard copy document be scanned in preferably a “pdf” format, or failing that a “TIFF” format. Each scanned file be named using the following protocol:

[yyyy-mm-dd][sss][rrr] description of the document”.:

Where:

“[yyyy-mm-dd]” is the effective date of the document;

“[sss]” are the initials of the sender or the firm

“[rrr]” are the initials of the recipient for the firm

For example

  • A letter sent from Gilbert & Tobin to Paul Bard Lawyers on 1st April 2012 enclosing Application for Special Leave would be described as:

[2012-04-01][G&T][PBL] Letter enclosing Application for Special Leave.

  • A deed of settlement between Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent dated 1 April 2021 would be described as:

[2021-04-01][FP][AD] Deed of Settlement

Soft Copy Documents.

I prefer:

  1. to receive all soft copy documents in native format, preferably adopting the same folder structure in which they were original stored.
  2. Native files other than emails can generally be copied to the media. It is important to preserve the meta data including the last file save date etc.  To preserve the important metadata, I generally alter the attribute of all files to make the read only.
  3. Today, emails will probably amount close to 75% of all documents in the document bundle. In order to include these documents in the bundle, they need to either copied to a temporary “.pst” folder in outlook, or saved as a “.msg” format.  Programs are available, such as “Outlook Extract” http://www.japler.com/index.htm that can extract and process .msg files very easily.  It can even rename the files using a similar name protocol  to that discussed above.

The Determination of Date of a Document

What is important is to establish what is the “effective date” of a document, that is the date that the document was put into the form that it now exists in.

For final transactional documents, the date would be date that the document is signed.

For draft documents, it would be the date that the document was last modified.

For correspondence, it would be the date when the document is sent, posted or delivered.

Where a document is sent to an external party, the date and time that document is sent.

Use of Metadata in determining the date of an electronic document.

 A lot of electronic documents have metadata which can be used to determine the date of a document.  All Microsoft office documents have metadata purportedly indicating

  • When the document was created.
  • When the document was last modified
  • When the document was last printed.

Email contain a lot of meta data, such as

  •  when the document was sent or received.
  • who the document was sent to
  • who sent the document
  • the subject matter
  • other more complicated information.

Today, Photographic Images may also contain a surprising amount of metadata such as

  • time the photograph was taken
  • the geographic location where the photograph was taken
  • what camera it was taken on etc.

Information from metadata has to be used and interpreted carefully.

Metadata may evidence that a document was created at a later date, than the purported date of the document.  (e.g. the creation date disclosed can be after its last modified date).  However, it is also possible that the creation date of a document, could be the date that the file was copied to the particular disk, as opposed as to when it was originally created, depending upon how the file was copied.

In other cases, a document can be created from using an earlier document as a precedent, in some cases the creation date of the new file, could be the creation date of the original precedent.

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How to Collate a Document Bundle

As I explained in my last post, the most important part in preparing the chronology, is collating a bundle of all relevant documents and then organising that bundle in chronological order.

If the document bundle is properly prepared, it could save a lot of work later on, as a complete document bundle:

  • can be used to obtain the initial advice;
  • will be the basis for later providing discovery or disclosure; and
  • will be the starting point for the preparation of  your evidence.

In large matters this may not be feasible, as it would not be economical or practical to prepare a comprehensive bundle for the initial advice.  In that case, it may be necessary to provide only the most relevant  documents to your lawyer.

Q. What documents are relevant?

A. Any document:

  • that records any agreement between you and the other side:
    • the contract;
    • order;
    • invoice;
    • credit application;
    • any document in which the terms of the agreement is recorded including letters, emails, voice messages, sms texts etc
  • that records the performance of the agreement
  • in any file you maintained relating to the matter or project;
  • that may assist you in recollecting the events:
    • diary notes
    • emails;
    • outlook calendar entries;
    • photographs (including all meta data – including time and gps location where the photograph was taken);
    • telephone records;

Basically, any document in any form or on any media that either assists you in your case, or that may assist the other side in the case against you.

So that the documents in the bundle may be used later for discovery and evidence, it is important that the document is not altered by you.  If you wish to add comments to explain a document to your lawyer, place those comments on a separate cover page or post it note.

There is no problem if during the project, you made notes or annotated the document.  Those notes merely form part of the evidence.

There is no point in hiding from your lawyer, a document that may damage your case. Most negative documents can be explained. He needs to be aware of the document and deal with it. If the parties are required to provide discovery, there are ethical obligations upon your lawyer (and you) to ensure that all relevant documents are disclosed to other side. A lot of documents may be privileged from disclosure, for example if they are subject to legal professional privilege. Failure to disclose a negative document, when it is eventualy discovered (as it will be) almost in all cases fatally effects the credibility of that party.

It is important to preserve the meta data associated with the document. A lot of the relevant documents are now stored electronically. Where possible, those documents should be given to your lawyer in electronic form. It is important to preserve the meta data. That meta data not only includes the file attributes, but also in which folder the document was stored on the system. It is important to ensure that the metadata is not altered. In the case of Word for example, opening the document for review, and then saving it will alter important meta.

Metadata also exists in hard copy document. That metadata includes when it was created, who authored it, when it was received etc. Some of that information may be evident from the face of document. Other metadata such as what folder and cabinet it was stored in, what room it was located in, who had possession of it are not discernable. It could be important to preserve that metadata as well.

How to prepare a Chronology

Providing a detailed and accurate chronology to your lawyer is generally the most critical instruction that you need to give to him.

Q. What is a Chronology?

A. A Chronology is a schedule that records all major events in a table form.

For example.

A Customer owes you $15,000 for a goods supplied and delivered by you to him on 30 June 2011. The value of the goods were in fact $25,000 but he paid you a deposit of $10,000 on the 1 June 2011. He had in fact ordered the goods from you on 1 May 2011. The goods were provided on credit after the customer opening a credit account with you on 1 February 2011. You had sent a letter requesting payment of the outstanding debt on 14 July 2011. You called him on the 21 July 2011, where he promised to pay you. You sent him an email to him on 28 July. He replied to your email on 1 August.

The chronology would provide

Date Event Related Document
1 February 2011 Customer requests that a Credit Account be open.He signs Credit Application and Guarantee. Credit Application dated 1 February 2011
14 February 2011 Credit Application is approved. Letter dated 14 February 2011
1 May 2011 Customer requests the the supply of 25000 widgets for delivery before 30 June 2011 for cost of $25,000.An agreement is entered into where you agree to supply him the 25000 widgets for a total cost of $25,000 on the condition that he pays a deposit of $10,000 by 1 June 2011. Letter or agreement confirming order and terms dated 1 May 2011
1 June 2011 Receive payment from Customer Receipt dated 1 June 2011
30 June 2011 25000 widgets delivered to Customer Delivery Note dated 30 June 2011Invoice dated 30 June 2011
14 July 2011 Letter sent to customer requesting payment Letter dated 14 July 2011
21 July 2011 Telephoned Customer. Customer said “I am sorry, I will pay you next week Diary note?
28 July 2011 Email sent to Customer referring to telephone conversation and requesting payment Email 28 July 2011
1 August 2011 Email received from Customer advising delay in payment. Email 1 August 2011

Q. How do you prepare one?

A. You start by preparing the bundle of documents.

Except in the simplest of case it is not possible to correctly recollect facts and events without referring to contemporaneous documents. In the example above, almost the whole chronology could have been prepared by just referring to the document bundle.

In real life is not that easy.

Most cases are a lot more complex involving hundreds of events.

Your record keeping may not be perfect or complete.

In those cases the document bundle is an essential reference to assist in your recollection. It provides time markers to give order to your recollection.

My next blog will discuss how to collate of the document bundle.

What do you need to do so that your lawyer can collect your debt?

Q. You are owed money, the debtor refuses to pay, what can you do?

A. You sue the bastard.

Q. But legal costs are expensive, how can you minimise those costs?

A. You try to give your lawyer detailed, concise and complete instructions to reduce what work he has to do for you.

Yes, he is working for you, but that is the point. The more work that he has to do for you, the more he will charge you. Every minute that you save him, will save you $6.

Before meeting with him, you should do all the preliminary work to organise and present all relevant facts and documents to your lawyer in a way so that he can quickly review them and be in a position to advise you the best course of action.

  • Unfortunately your Lawyer will need to carefully review all relevant documents about your claim, but his work can be made a lot easier (i.e. quicker and cheaper) if the documents are provided to him in a chronological order and are accompanied with a written chronology of relevant facts.
  • You do not save costs by only giving him half the documents or half the story. He will waste a lot of time trying to understand the case only to eventually realise he does not have complete instructions
  • You do not save money by giving him thousands of marginally irrelevant documents, and then express concern when he confesses that that the relevance of one of those documents to a particular issue escaped him.
  • You have to work as a team, he must be able to freely contact you to clarify an issue or fact. The instructions that you give him may not be consistent with the documents. Inaccurate recollection happens, it is almost invariably innocent, but it is important that those issue be resolved promptly.