When it comes down to it, litigation is a series of rather formal meetings, interspersed by phone calls and letters.
This means that many of the same rules for running good meetings apply to running cases.
One of these is that there should always be an agenda. Whether you are in the tribunal or on the phone to the respondent, you should know what issues you are going to discuss and what you are trying to achieve.
There is no need to make a meal of this. A few lines scrawled on the back of an envelope saying “Discovery – Disciplinary Code and Minutes of Sep Meeting. Bundles – Next Tues?” may be plenty for a phone call to the Respondent’s representative. Often you won”t need to write anything. The point is to spend a few moments making sure you know what you need to get done.
The more complicated and lengthy the meeting the more detailed the agenda will become. Hearings will often generate many different agendas. For example, you may have a list of things you need to discuss with the Respondent before the hearing, preliminary matters the tribunal will need to deal with, areas you need to cover with each witness and, finally, points to make in your submissions. At this point, most people (definitely including the blog’s authors) will need to write things down to make sure everything is covered.
Once you have an idea of your agenda it is often worth trying to agree at least some of it with the other side. In many hearings this has implicitly been done once the issues in the case have been determined and you have exchanged witness statements. These form the agenda for the hearing. But in preliminary hearings, particularly about case management issues, you will start from scratch. The hearing will be infinitely easier and more productive if you have decided ahead of time what you need to cover. The ideal is to be able to say to the tribunal something like “Sir, the parties have been discussing the necessary case management orders. We’ve been able to agree a time table for discovery, production of bundles and exchange of witness statements. We’ve also been able to agree the list of issues. We’re in dispute about the way the medical evidence should be dealt with…”
Even if you can’t agree anything on the agenda, the hearing will be much easier if you agree exactly what it is that you’re disagreeing about.
The final point to bear in mind is that in litigation you will never have complete control over the agenda. The other side will have their own ideas and the tribunal will be in charge during the hearing. It is all too common for cases to devolve into pitched battles, not about the issues in the case, but about what the issues are. Try to avoid this.