William D. Cleaveland

First, make a timeline.  A timeline will improve your initial consultation.  A timeline will quickly bring others up to speed on the facts of your case.  A timeline will focus further investigation and fact finding.  A timeline will expose strengths and weaknesses in your case.  A timeline will save you money.    You are the person most knowledgeable about the facts and circumstances of your case.  You know the documents involved. You know the conversations that occurred. You know each event and when it took place.  You are your own ready-made expert on what happened and when.  Write it down and include the date of occurrence of each event.
The process of creating a written timeline compels you to think about each event and the documents or other evidence that you have.  A timeline will organize your thoughts in a logical order.  If you are not sure of the date, list the time frame of the event like “in mid 2006 …” or “sometime in June or early July …”    This will let your attorney know that you are not sure of the date.  The missing information can be filled in as it becomes known.  Even if you do not recall the time of year, it helps to list the events in order: “Several years ago, this happened first, … second we did this, … and third Mr. A called Mr. B and discussed this …”   The first time you try to create a timeline you will find it surprising how the process jogs memories of additional evidence and events.  When dates are lacking, you will naturally be thinking of other documents that may help establish the timing of events. Also, creating a timeline early in the case means that memories are the freshest and documents are less likely to have been misplaced or destroyed.  The exercise of creating a written timeline will help identify timely the documents and other evidence that you need to gather and preserve to establish the facts.   Your monetary savings from creating a timeline will begin to be realized at the initial consultation with your attorney. With a timeline, it only takes a few minutes for your attorney to become familiar and conversant with the facts of your case.  Your attorney can help you fill in the missing pieces of the story and explore other evidence and information that may be important.  The remainder of your meeting can focus on the key issues instead of on the background, and your attorney can proceed more promptly into a discussion about the significant events and legal implications.  With a simple timeline in hand, your first meeting with an attorney can include much more time discussing the legal issues involved in your case, exploring your possible options for proceeding, and assessing the potential risks and benefits of each option.    Without a timeline, it is not unusual to spend the majority of your initial consultation going back-and-forth in a conversation trying to educate your attorney on the basic background facts needed to understand your case.  This leaves little time to discuss the more important issues and concerns that brought you into your attorney’s office.   First, even before you call your attorney, make a timeline.     Of course, you can always pay your attorney to create the initial timeline for you.