Organizing a Trial Folder - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Ryan Malkin

"Forthwith to Part 45 for hearings and trial," says the judge. Getting sent out on your first trial will likely be one of the most exciting and stressful days of your legal career. No matter how prepared you think you are, panic sets in, you can't even seem to locate a working pen, your file is not as organized as you would like, and you run up to court in a panic.

However, with a little preparation, you can walk into court confident and truly ready for trial. Instead of worrying about paperwork and notes, you'll be able to concentrate on the important things, like the law. Here's what you'll need in your trial folder.

  • Bring your penal law and relevant legal manuals (for example, Search and Seizure and Evidence). For an undercover buy and bust case, bring applicable law for Mapp, Dunaway, Wade, and Huntley hearings. That way, you'll be prepared to argue your point with case law and have some law in front of you to rebut your advisory's claims. Be prepared to argue the finer points of evidence as well. You don't want your witness to be unable to testify about an event because you can't cite the relevant hearsay
  • Carry a pack of rainbow colored pens. During jury selection it's helpful to cross out prospective jurors with different colored pens: blue for those you struck, red for your adversary's and green for those struck for cause. Witnesses should use different colored pens to mark your exhibits as they testify so that the markings of each will be clear to the jury when they retire to deliberate. Use a red pen to circle important points in your notes as you take them, you may not notice them if you merely circled them in black.
  • Take some time to organize your documents into folders before trial. One folder for Grand Jury minutes, another for motions and the voluntary disclosure form, another for the indictment and predicate felony form, still another for documents you'll be referring to or introducing (bank records, employment records, subpoenaed phone records, to name a few), and another for scripts.
  • Bring two legal pads. Use one of them to take notes while your witnesses are being cross examined. Use the second to make notes for your summation. Throughout the trial, various summation points or arguments will come to mind. Don't expect to remember them. You're stressed and busy; when it's time for the most important part of the trial--summation--you don't want to waste hours reviewing scribbles taken on napkins during lunch. Taking notes in one place throughout will keep your thoughts in on place.

Following these tips will help you stay calm in front of a jury. After all, seconds can feel like hours when you're searching for an exhibit and the entire court room is waiting on you. Naturally, these are just a few tips to get you started. As you have more trials, you will develop your own system for organizing a trial folder.

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About the Author

Ryan Malkin is an Assistant District Attorney in New York County. Since starting at the DA's office in 2006, he has tried approximately ten cases. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 2006.

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