How To Prepare A Trial Notebook

by Robert Loughry | Aug 22, 2018 11:03:50 AM | Litigation Services, Trial Presentation

trial notebook

Every law firm knows that a big upcoming trial means putting other tasks to the side and focusing intently on the task at hand. One such task that must be done is the creation of a trial notebook. An attorney’s trial notebook is both a playbook and an outline for how the trial should go. Each attorney will have their own format or preferences, of course, but here is a good primer on how to prepare a trial notebook. 

Start With a Trial Outline

Start by creating a first section focusing on your broad trial outline. In this section, you want to very simply and efficiently lay out all the key elements of the case. You don’t want a lot of detail and fine points, because these can take time to review. If you are in the midst of a trial, you want somewhere you can go to quickly pull up the larger view of the case. Think of this as being somewhere between a table of contents and a summary section. Include in this section:

  • Jury Selection Questions (voir dire)
  • Jury seating / layout
  • Your opening and closing statements
  • Any applicable jury instructions
  • Optional: Abbreviated evidence list

Plaintiff’s Section

Next, create a section in your trial notebook for each side. This is where you put the plaintiff’s evidence, exhibits, witness list, and other items that the plaintiff will be referencing in its case in chief. Any pre-trial motions should be here, as well as any contested jury instructions you anticipate having to argue.

Defendant’s Section

Here you will do the same thing you did for the plaintiff, but in reverse. In this section, you want to put all of the defendant’s principle case materials.


When you prepare a trial notebook, you want to include the most recent version of the complaint with the defendant’s most recent answer and any affirmative defenses. Also make sure you have copies of any motions or other pleadings. Before getting to trial, you should highlight and flag any specific admissions or arguments you feel could be relevant at trial. For instance, if a motion filed by the other side early in the case argued that they were out of town on a certain date, and you anticipate a witness will deny this, then you should have a court-filed copy ready and noted for quick reference.

Discovery ItemseDiscovery

You will also want to make sure you have copies of all interrogatory answers, production responses, and any expert disclosures. Get help with E-Discovery.

Consider a Separate Evidence Notebook / Binder

Depending on the size and nature of the case, you may wish to consider having a separate binder or folder just for exhibits and evidence. In many high-value personal injury or medical malpractice cases, there will be many pages of medical records, of which there may be only a few pages of specific and relevant records. In a case where a paper trail is especially heavy, you may want to create this separate notebook to contain and reference these items.

Chronological or By Topic?

An old debate exists between two schools of thought. Some attorneys prefer to prepare a chronological trial notebook. This school of thought prefers to outline things in the order that they are anticipated to arise at trial. This has some benefits. For instance, as the case proceeds, the attorney can move smoothly through the notebook without a lot of backtracking.

The second school of thought, however, is sometimes more flexible. This approach focuses on organizing by topic. This way, if the attorney is cross examining a witness and a specific key issue arises, they can quickly flip to that section of the trial notebook and reference the information needed.

Build Your Trial Notebook & Strengthen Your Case With Litigation Services

Whatever you need to prepare for your next trial, you can count on A. William Roberts, Jr. & Associates. With offices throughout the Carolinas, we are here for all your litigation support and court reporting needs. Contact us today for help.



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