Volume 18, Number 4
June 2001

Brainstorming with CaseMap 3

By John L. (Tim) Mellitz

CaseMap 3 is unlike any other software targeting the legal profession. It’s both a spreadsheet and a database, but as it is used, those applications are hidden in the background. Consider the following questions and comments one might hear from a litigation team.

• "Did you know that the plaintiff has filed no fewer than 16 personal injury suits since 1992?"

• "Remember that baggie full of dope? Well, now we know why the old man didn’t leave anything to his ‘dedicated nephew.’"

• "How much information do we have that relates to the issue of fraudulent intent? And does it help or hinder our case?"

• "Is there anything about the timing of the events in this case that would give a clue as to the reason for the delay in filing a claim for the insurance?"

• "Come on, now, we’re supposed to be partners. Isn’t there anything we can agree on in this case?"

The answers to these types of questions are unlikely to be found using traditional litigation support software. That type of software is best suited to finding particular information hidden in large volumes of data. These questions deal more with relationships—and relationships, or links, are what CaseMap 3 is all about.

Even in the simplest of cases, it is often impossible to get a handle on all the facts, people, documents, events, issues, and questions and how they all relate to one another. CaseMap 3 does this, and more.

Getting Started

CaseMap 3 comes with an attractive, spiral-bound manual that lies flat on the desk. Installation is straightforward and involves following instructions on the screen. You can have it up and running in less than five minutes. The program comes with a tutorial, CaseMap 101, which is quite possibly the best and most useful tutorial I’ve ever seen. It takes just 20 to 30 minutes to complete, at which point most users will recognize the benefits of the program and be able to visualize how it will fit into their practices.

What stands out is the fact that CaseMap 3 is a "mind-mapping" or "brainstorming" tool. Pardon the cliché, but it is definitely the result of "thinking outside of the box." With CaseMap 3, every aspect of a case falls into one of four categories:

• Objects, (including people, organizations, documents, events, etc.).

• Issues.

• Facts.

• Questions.

CaseMap 3 provides a modifiable database template designed to maintain most of the content of these categories as they relate to a given case. The data is usually presented in the form of a spreadsheet. Figures 1 through 4 show some of the information recorded in a typical case. For each category, there are additional predefined fields that can be shown or hidden, depending on the demands of the task at hand. Furthermore, the user can define additional fields to track data unique to a particular case.

Describing the mechanics of how information is recorded and stored and the many ways that information can be filtered, sorted, and otherwise manipulated is beyond the scope of this review. The CaseMap 101 tutorial outlines conveys these operations clearly and concisely.

CaseMap 3 has that rare and elusive quality of "elegance" that is the hallmark of truly well-designed software. It is thorough but doesn’t generate a lot of redundant data. It maintains a lot of detailed information but provides the user with tools to facilitate "recording and validating" that information. Data validation is a process whereby the program anticipates input errors and either automatically corrects them or alerts the user that nonconforming or inconsistent data is being entered. It provides a wide variety of reports that are amazingly simple to set up and easy to interpret. The icing on the cake is its speed. It is fast.

Short Names

Each record, regardless of its category, has at least one field, or blank, for a free-form description of the record’s information. CaseMap 3 uses a form of shorthand called "short names" that provides several benefits when entering descriptions:

• It facilitates data entry.

• It provides a data validation function, thereby insuring consistency in data entry.

• It is the primary means by which relationships between data elements are established.

Figures 1 (Facts), 2 (Objects), 3 (Issues), and 4 (Questions) help illustrate the following features of CaseMap 3.

1. An evaluation system. Each member of the litigation team can indicate an opinion of the extent to which any given record helps or hinders the client’s case. For example, in figure 1, each record has a column in which each member of the team records an assessment of how each fact impacts the case ("eval by CL," "eval by GP," etc.).

2. Link Summaries. This feature provides a count of the number and type of other records within the system to which a given record is linked. For example, in figure 2 (Objects) Lang," (a "key" object), is linked to ten Facts (LS Facts) and two Sourced Facts (LS Sourced Facts). A double click on the latter of these numbers reveals the sourced facts to which Mr. Lang is linked (see figure 5). Taking it one step further, one can double click on the Linked Sourced Fact of 12/14/99, and the full detail of the Sourced Fact is displayed (see figure 6).

3. The CaseWide timeline. Here you can find a visual history of the facts in the case. This timeline can change as facts are filtered and/or tagged. In many cases, a graphical timeline calls attention to important trends or causative factors.

4. The Data Refinery. The Refinery offers a graphical method of identifying important facts, trends, concepts, and events by applying one or more filters to a table of facts, objects, etc.; and tagging pertinent data that may be revealed by the filtering process.

The Bottom Line

All these features are well and fine, but what can CaseMap 3 do for you? The answer: It can greatly enhance the probability of winning your case. Consider preparation for a deposition. You already use Summation, and you have created a digest of the deponent’s written correspondence and reviewed the issues about which the deponent is likely to testify, and you have a general idea of what his position is on the issues and what he is likely to say.

Based on this information and the knowledge you have gleaned from it, you prepare your cross-examination outline. Have you overlooked anything? What is the likelihood of the deponent’s testifying as you anticipate? What sort of surprises might you face? Are there documents alluding to matters about which the deponent may have knowledge that do not mention the deponent?

CaseMap 3 addresses these questions. Assuming the system has been maintained properly and all pertinent information has been entered in sufficient detail, you can expect to see immediately:

• The issues that are related to the deponent and the relative strength of your position to that of the deponent (from the linked issues and the assessments of other litigation team members).

• People, documents, organizations, events, proceedings, and other objects with which the deponent has some connection, and the extent of each connection (from the Link Summaries of other object types and facts).

• Sources of the facts about which the deponent may testify (by expanding the Link Summary of facts related to the deponent).

• A graphical representation of the dates associated with facts in the case, which might disclose when the deponent gained knowledge of critical facts (from the CaseWide timeline of the facts with which the deponent is associated).

In short, with this information you will be able to formulate—quickly—a strategic approach to how you will conduct the deposition.

No Pain, No Gain

At this point you probably have your credit card out and can’t wait to get your hands on this amazing tool. However, like any romance, your infatuation with the program will not grow into a meaningful relationship until you have been "tested." What little peculiarities does the program possess that could torpedo the relationship? What is it going to look like when you wake up the next morning after just two hours of sleep?

In fact, there are substantial hurdles to successfully implementing CaseMap 3, the biggest being behavior modification.

Much as or more than any other program, CaseMap 3 is a GIGO system (garbage in, garbage out). It is only as good as the amount and quality of the data fed into the system. This is the single, largest hurdle to overcome, because the program makes extraordinary demands on your time and attention. Recently, I received a call from one of my clients who was convinced that his 133 mhz Pentium computer was more than enough to support the word processing and outlining for which he used the machine. For some reason he wanted to upgrade. I asked him why. He said that the CaseMap 3 program I had recommended was all I had promised, but he couldn’t keep up with the data input. He believed that if he had a good paralegal or secretary with good typing skills and a feeling for what a case was all about, he could delegate the task. However, from his perspective he couldn’t justify hiring someone just for the purpose of feeding CaseMap 3. His answer: voice recognition. But while voice recognition may prove to be effective for some practitioners, its efficacy in general must be judged on a case-by-case basis, so I’m not convinced that this solution is best.

Implementation of CaseMap 3 usually fails if the lawyer or firm does not maintain some sort of formal trial notebook from the beginning of most cases, but doing so may be overkill for some of your cases. For many small tort cases, using CaseMap 3 is akin to going squirrel hunting with an AK-47. Most experienced litigators are aware that "giant oaks from little acorns grow." But because knowing just which acorns to nurture is impossible, it is necessary to tend to all of them until their fate appears to be sealed, either by settlement or by a trial you can handle with notes written on the inside of a matchbook cover. Furthermore, failure to enter data from the beginning of a case can make it impossible to do so later, when your memory of all the facts, objects, and issues has become fuzzy. Nevertheless, many of my clients have a high turnover of "fender benders" and "slip and fall" cases for which trial costs cannot be justified. One user reports that in his practice, CaseMap 3 is used only for business litigation, medical malpractice, and products liability cases. You may want to set up some criteria to judge whether a case would benefit from the use of CaseMap 3.

Even though the CaseMap 101 tutorial can make you feel as though you can take on Goliath, the knowledge gained from the tutorial is but a small sampling of the many ways CaseMap 3 can slice, dice, chop, strain, mince, puree, and blend information. However, this is where you learn that no pain means no gain. Just like any other sophisticated program, CaseMap takes exploration, practice, use, and review before the user realizes anything close to the full benefits of the software.

While the program confers substantial benefits on almost any individual user, litigation "teams" can take advantage of certain features that require its implementation on a local area network and the input of multiple users.

In the same vein, larger firms are better equipped to handle the intensive data input required to get the most out of the system. The program is probably overkill in a practice handling a high volume of cases with little likelihood of substantial recoveries. The operation of the program causes its users to engage in more critical thinking during the development of a case and can serve as a tool to improve practice habits. However, people resistant to behavior modification and those who are not orderly and disciplined in their handling of litigation will almost certainly fail to get any benefit from the program.

 

John L. (Tim) Mellitz practiced law for 16 years, and for the last 15 years has practiced legal technology consulting as Mellitz & Associates, which specializes in the automation of law firms. He assists small- to medium-sized law firms in the design and implementation of microcomputer systems.

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