Cyber Trial Lawyer Lesson: Stick With the Chronological Story

There is a well-known rule among experienced trial lawyers: when presenting your case, you always tell your story of the case in a chronological order unless there is an exceptional reason not to.

The problem is, for most of us, the deeper we get into a case and the further into the weeds we get, the more apt we are to convince ourselves that our case is one of those exceptional ones that is so complex that it should be organized by topical subject matter and not chronological order. It happens all the time but it is wrong to give in to this temptation.

The most common reason this happens is because the longer a lawyer works with a case, the more we begin to focus on the details instead of the big picture, and the more we begin to convince ourselves that all of those little nuances are what the case will turn on, and the more we lose sight of the big picture. Simply put, we have a tendency to lose sight of the forest because of the trees.

It is usually at this point that we begin telling ourselves that we are now dealing with that one rare case that requires us to abandon the age-old rule of telling stories in chronological order and, instead, organize our story by the topical subject matter.

Trial lawyers who are handling cyber cases have even more of a temptation. Cyber cases are usually pretty complicated and require a more detailed story. Cyber cases more often fit the criteria of true complex litigation more often than not. And, the more complex a case is, the more we must get into the weeds of the case and, the deeper into the weeds we get, the more tempting it gets to convince ourselves that this is that one exceptional case that justifies abandoning the old rule.

But, the truth is, when we look at the case from how the trier of fact will see it — the jury, judge, arbitration panel — we see that there never really is a good reason to abandon the old rule. We as trial lawyers have usually lived with the case for many years and can see the importance of every little nuance and how each one can make or break a case. That is our job. We must understand it all and be able to answer any question that is asked of us. We must master the microscope.

However, we must also be able to put ourselves into the shoes of our audience who will know nothing of the case, and be able to see in our mind’s eye what will be the best way to help them understand the case in the shortest amount of time. This requires telling them a story in a way that will make sense to them. This requires stepping back and seeing the big picture — seeing the case as a whole — and then finding a way to present that whole case to them in one cogent, easy to understand story, with only enough of the details as are necessary to have the story make sense. This is also our job. We must master the telescope.

This is just as true for lawyers trying cyber cases as it is for lawyers trying any other cases.

What human history teaches is that when it comes to learning, we all learn best through stories, and the easiest stories to understand are those that go in chronological order. It is just how we learn. It is as true for complicated stories as it is for simple stories. So, next time you find yourself thinking that you have one of those exceptional cases and you need to abandon the old rule, don’t give in to the temptation. You don’t. Stick to the chronological story.

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