Writing a chronology

A chronology is just a list of key dates. Writing a chronology will often be the first thing you need to do to start to come to grips with a case. It is much more use to you if you have drafted it yourself: a great deal of the value of the exercise is in the doing of it, rather than in the finished product (although the finished product is useful too). This is because the task makes you think systematically about the story. What happened first? Then what happened? What happened after that? Did this bit of the story come before or after the other bit? By the time you have written down the key events in the story, you will have understood a great deal more about it than you did when you started.

For this reason, any kind offer your opponent may make to draft a neutral chronology and give it to you and the tribunal should be treated much as your mother taught you to treat kind offers of sweets from strangers.

There is nothing difficult about drafting a chronology, but there are a few good habits to cultivate:

Start by sorting the papers you have in chronological order

This makes the task much easier. Then your method is just to go through the documents one by one writing down any relevant date that you see.

Use 3 columns: date, event, page number

Date and event are obvious, but if you already have a paginated bundle by the time you do this task, it will save you a lot of time later on if every time there is a document clearly associated with a particular event, you note its page number in the right hand column. So for instance if ‘dismissal’ is one of the dates on your chronology, the obvious associated document is the letter of dismissal.

Use a table or a spreadsheet

This is helpful, because it means that you can write down dates in any old order, and then sort them at the end (or from time to time as you go along, if you find that helpful).

Approximate dates

Lots of dates you will know exactly and be able to put in your table in a form (e.g. 12/11/97) that your word-processing or spreadsheet program will recognise as such and be able to cope with. Sometimes you will just know that a particular event happened ‘during the week beginning 12 November 2007’ or ‘in November 2007.’ If there are relevant dates further back in the history, they may be even vaguer: ‘early in 2003’ or ‘in about 1990.’ Dates of this kind are harder to put in a chronology that you are going to want to sort automatically.

There are various ways of dealing with this. One method that works is to adopt a convention. Give the event an exact date which is the earliest date it could be; but mark it as an approximate date by putting an asterisk in front of the note of the event. So for example if you know that the claimant asked for a pay rise at some point during the week beginning 12 November 2007, you could write in your chronology:

12/11/07 *C asked for pay rise

If you know that your client was promoted at some point in 2003, you could write:

1/1/03 *C promoted.

Then you will be able to sort your chronology automatically, but the asterisk will remind you that this is not an exact date. If you finalise the chronology to give to the tribunal, you can sort it for the last time, and then remove the asterisks and write in the dates column just ‘week beg. 12/11/07’ or ‘2003’ or ‘November 2007’ as appropriate.

This is effective, if not elegant: if anyone reading this post knows a better method, please comment.

Start your cross-examination notes at the same time

Keep an eye open from the start for documents you might want to cross-examine the respondent’s witnesses on. It makes sense to have a separate document open on your computer (or a separate pad of paper) that is the beginnings of your cross-examination notes. Don’t worry for the moment about structure or order. Just highlight the relevant part of the document with a yellow highlighter, stick a post-it on the page, and make a brief note of the point or question together with the page number (if any). If you don’t yet have a paginated bundle and the papers are voluminous, you can save yourself some time later by numbering each post-it as you go along, and sticking each one on half an inch lower down the page than its predecessor. That way, whatever order your pages end up in, your numbered post-its will run from top to bottom. Start again at the top if you run out of space.

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