LawProse Lesson #264: The chronology of relevant events.
What’s the most important step in writing a statement of facts? It’s the creation of a chronology of relevant events—a document that lists, day by day and time by time, every important occurrence bearing on the interactions between parties. Lawyers often ask clients to prepare such a chronology as a starting point. Although the quality varies according to the client’s skill and knowledge, this timeline can be an excellent exercise for the client to understand precisely what has happened. It helps you, too. As your client’s counselor, you need to understand the circumstances that have led to a dispute. Not until you prepare a chronology are you likely to understand the diverse elements involved: e-mails, phone calls, meetings, and other conversations. The chronology helps you fit events together as if they were pieces of a puzzle. It’s a crucial step in case preparation. Once you have the detailed timeline, you can begin drafting a narrative for a motion or brief. The important point here is to avoid a series of sentences that say, “On September 16, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., . . . . On September 17, 2016, at 11:38 a.m., . . . .” That’s fine in your chronology of relevant events—you want all those dates and times at hand—but as a matter of prose style, it’s unremittingly tedious. The pinpoint dates and times are often unnecessary in narrative. Instead, relate the events as a good storyteller would. Identify the characters and place them in time and locale (who, what, when, where). Give mostly relative times: “An hour later,” “The following morning,” “For two months,” etc. When the story calls for specific references, be only as precise as necessary: “The following Monday,” “On the morning of March 12,” “In May 2015,” and so on. Meanwhile, amplify your chronology as new facts come to light. Keep it factual and concrete, shorn of conclusory characterizations. The statement of facts is never the place for arguments. From time to time, you’ll be tempted to skip creating a chronology of relevant events. Never do that. Force yourself. You’ll benefit tremendously from making this a mandatory step in your preparation. Further reading: Garner, The Winning Brief 524–46 (3d ed. 2014). Scalia & Garner, Making Your Case 95–96 (2008).