The Importance of Exhibit Books at Trial

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Most divorce and family cases settle before trial. To get to a settlement, parties should almost always send a settlement offer. It also makes sense in most instances to settle once the settlement terms are within the margin of error versus litigating a case where there is nothing to be gained.

However, not all cases settle. Some parties are unable to reach a settlement that makes sense for both. In other cases, the parties’ viewpoints on what is reasonable are so opposite of the other that settling is impossible. When parties cannot settle, the only way to resolve the case is to try it.

Exhibit books can help achieve a better result

Being organized at trial can go a long way in helping a party receive a better result. The reality is that judges hear lots of cases. To obtain the best chance at a positive result, it is vital to present the case in a coherent manner. One way to be organized at trial is for a lawyer to have an exhibit book put together before trial.

An exhibit book generally involves all exhibits being bound in a three-hole binder before trial. The exhibits are then topically organized, marked by letter or number and bate-stamped. A cover sheet that shows all the exhibits is usually at the front of the exhibit book. The cover sheet can denote whether the exhibit was offered, admitted or rejected.

Organizing an exhibit book topically

In most cases, it also makes sense to organize the exhibits topically. Thus, in a divorce, there can be many issues from property and debt division, child custody, child support, spousal support, attorneys’ fees and even other matters like marital misconduct.

Instead of having these exhibits sporadically in the exhibit book, having all the exhibits on a topic next to each other can often make sense. Presenting witnesses in the general order in which the exhibits are in the exhibit book can also be considered. The last exhibit on each topic should entail a bookend exhibit where the judge can clearly see what the party is requesting, like their child support calculations, proposed custody schedule or parenting, proposed property and debt division, etc.

Again, the organization is key at trial. So, having a lawyer who carefully considers the order and manner in which evidence is presented and submitted is often important.

Have copies of the exhibit book for everybody

Having copies of the exhibit book for the witness stand, opposing counsel, the guardian ad litem and judge can also help. In this way, the lawyer can refer to the exhibit number and page number of an exhibit when a witness is on the stand. By doing this, everybody in the courtroom can simply turn to the referenced page.

If this is not done, lots of time can be wasted in court where parties are trying to figure out what exhibit is being referenced and the page number. The lawyer also may have to move around the courtroom with each exhibit giving everybody a copy versus simply handing an exhibit book to the lawyers in the courtroom before trial.

Using exhibit books like this, a judge can also take this exhibit book with them after the trial. As the judge weighs the case, it can be useful as an organized tool for the judge to have all the exhibits after a trial in a bound exhibit book. Many judges will want to review all or some of the exhibits again after trial. The easier a lawyer makes this for a judge, the better.

Exhibit books can shorten trial time

An exhibit book can also shorten the trial time. Instead of having to repeatedly hand copies of exhibits to the lawyers in the courtroom, and be concerned with confusion about the page number, an exhibit book can move the trial along quicker.

When a trial takes less time because a lawyer is organized, most judges are happier. Clients also incur less in legal fees the less time a trial takes.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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