One of the first things that should be done in any new case is speaking to witnesses.
When you go to meet with a lawyer about your case, you should inform him of all the witnesses you have. If it was a car accident, anyone who saw what happened would be a witness.
If your injury has had a particular affect on your life – for instance, you need your sister or neighbor to help around the house – then they would be witnesses to your general damages, such as pain, discomfort or inconvenience.
There are different types of witnesses. Some witnesses will be fact witnesses. A fact witness is someone who saw what actually happened. Their story will support your liability theory – that is, that the defendant was the one who caused the incident.
Then there are witnesses who will support your claim for damages. These would be your friends, family, or co-workers. People who can plainly state that they’ve seen how hard this event has been on you.
Witnesses come in many different shades and varieties. Some are shy and quiet; others are matter of fact and plain speaking. Others are very opinionated. I like all sorts of witnesses; because witnesses are just regular people who know what they saw.
After you tell your lawyer about all the witnesses you have to support you case, invite your lawyer to meet with them. Take the lead on setting up these meetings and introductions.
If your lawyer has no interest in immediately meeting with these people who support you, then you need to find another lawyer.
Witnesses are the life blood of any case.
Why witnesses are so important for your case.
Witnesses are important because they are other people who support what you are claiming in your lawsuit. Think about how someone will dismiss a dispute as a case of “he said, she said.” Why? Because there are only two people arguing, and no other evidence. Once you begin to add other human beings who back up your story, all of a sudden your story has more and more credibility.
A lawsuit is a story, but it is told through human beings. Yes, lawyers get to make opening and closing statements – but those arguments are just summaries of what the witnesses had to say during the trial. We can’t actually argue some piece of evicence that doesn’t exist.
It is very important that lawyers communicate this to their clients: in order to tell our story, we need other people to tell it.
Even if we have physical evidence, we still need a witness to talk about that specific item. If there are photos of the frame of the vehicle which show that the entire chassis was bent crooked from the collision, we need a witness to explain that he took the photo and why he took it and what he saw and why he was under there. Even better would be to bring the bent chassis into the courtroom and have the witness point and explain the damage.
All evidence, including photographs, contracts, hand written notes, even video surveillance, must be “authenticated” by a witness, which is to say that a witness must explain what it is and why it is relevant to the case.
How to Help Your Case: Initiate the Interview of the Treating Physicians
Among the hardest witnesses for lawyers to meet with are the client’s doctors. If you have a good relationship with your physician, then you can really help your lawyer (and therefore the success of your case) by initiating contact between your doctor and your lawyer.
You may mention to your doctor that you shouldn’t have to pay for this treatment; the defendant who caused the injury should be responsible and you are looking to hold him accountable. You may then explain that you have hired a lawyer and would like assist your lawyer in meeting the doctor.
If you can in any way work with your doctor or the office manager to arrange a time (convenient for the doctor and office) to have the lawyer come over to briefly meet and discuss the treatment, you must take that opportunity! If the office says, “Ok, tell your lawyer he can come this Thursday at 11 a.m.” you should schedule that meeting immediately! And when you tell your lawyer about it, he should be willing to arrange this schedule to make it happen because you just arranged a voluntary meeting with an extremely important witness without the use of subpoenas or any other compulsory legal tool that makes normal people uncomfortable.
Absent a scheduled trial or deposition, your lawyer should jump at the opportunity.
Getting the tribe ready for trial
As the trial date gets closer and closer, it will be time to re-visit your witnesses. Let them know trial is around the corner. Give them the exact date, time and location of the courthouse and estimate how long we will need them. Your lawyer should be able to give you all of this information. In fact, your lawyer should be doing all of this already, but you can help him or her out by taking the initiative.
Most people hate lawyers and for that reason, it can be very difficult for a lawyer to reach out to a stranger and ask a favor (asking a witness to come to court is asking a huge favor!). Yes, lawyers can use subpoenas, but who wants to force someone to do something they don’t wanna do? The much better approach is to invite them and they attend because they want to help out. If you have to use the subpoena, then explain to the witness why you are serving them.