How to Prepare a Case

Courthouse  – Webster County, Nebraska 

Key Elements to Case Preparation

Theory of the Case: A short succinct statement of an advocate’s position that justifies the verdict he or she is seeking 

Elements of the Case: Components of the case that have to be proved to prevail

Case Themes: Words, phrases and ideas that evoke emotions and help communicate the case story to jurors so they can make sense of the evidence and testimony they see and hear. Think of these as sign posts – phrases that direct jurors to your case arguments and story

Witness Analysis: The strengths, weaknesses, and key testimony of each witness 

Exhibit Analysis:  The strengths, weaknesses, and key aspects of each exhibit

Burden of Proof:

  • Criminal Case: Prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt
  • Civil Case: Plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence

Creating  a story:  Crafting a compelling, consistent, and believable story about what happened from your side’s point of view. 

Steps in Preparing a Case

Before the roles are chosen

  1. Individually read the material, make notes, highlight important parts
  2. The team meets to discuss: 
    • The case as a whole
    • Elements of the case
    • Burden of Proof
    • Create:
      • A timeline
      • A master issue list
  3. Analyze Witnesses and Exhibits
    • Suggest breaking into groups
      • Saves time
      • Each group takes one of more witnesses and exhibits
    • Identify and rank issues
    • Identity key testimony
    • Identify strengths and weakness
    • Report back to the team as a whole 
    • Team as a whole which finalizes the analysis 
  4. Creating a Story
    • Practice telling a story about what happened form both points of view
    • Students may develop preferences for what side they want to be on

After roles are chosen

Tasks for each side:

  1. Develop a theory of the case
    • Brainstorm
    • One or two sentences max
    • Use in openings and closing
    • Guides the overall approach
  2. Identify case themes
    • Brainstorm as many as possible
    • Choose the best ones
  3. Create opening statements, directs, crosses, closing arguments, and witness profiles using:
    • Timeline
    • Master issue sheet
    • Witness and exhibit analyses
    • Theory of the case
    • Elements of the case
    • Case themes
  4. Identify evidence to try to keep out
  5. Create a Master Trial Notebook which contains the following:
    • Case and rules
    • Stipulations
    • Folder with Rosters (8) 
    • Copy of all openings, directs, crosses and closing.
    • Folder with witness statements (2 per witness) 
    • Folder with exhibits (9)
    • Objection log
    • Gender sheets (3)
    • Objections within the bar form (3)

Additional Preparation

  1. Create a master objection log as a group
  2. Witness and evidence workshops
  3. Practice, practice, practice

Resource links

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Preponderance of the Evidence

Time line/Master Issue Template

Witness Analysis Template

Exhibit Analysis Template

Objection Log