Today, I want to discuss search terms. In my position, as a civil litigation paralegal, I spend a lot of time searching for all sorts of information on people, companies, issues, news stories. You name it, I’ve probably searched for it.
While each of these types of searches requires their own set of skills, for the most part assembling the terms for the search is fairly standard.
Now, we’ve all taken the class, watched a webinar, or listened to a software developer’s presentation about assembling search terms, using connectors, using each and every one of those “Advanced Search” features. However, I find that so often the complicated searches only really work if you already know what you’re looking for. If, for instance, you know there is an email sent on a specific date, from a specific person, with a particular re: line, then these search terms and connectors can be invaluable timesavers. But for the general or preliminary searches, advanced searches can screen out relevant information resulting in less productive “hits.”
I find the fewer search terms I use, the better. Most of the time when using one or two words, instead of a whole math equation of connectors and unique identifiers, I find information that broadens my understanding of the case. More importantly, it is not uncommon for me to find information that is relevant and pertinent that would have been screened out by a narrower search.
So, by all means, learn how to use connectors, explore the advanced search options, but don’t feel tied to them. Remember that vague and broad have the potential to be exponentially more valuable than specific and narrow. Even if the broader search is too broad, reviewing a few of the results can give you useful terms to use to narrow down the search.
by: Kate Stuart
I’ve been a paralegal for 12 years now, and for a little over 11 of those, I have worked in civil litigation. But until 2020, I had only ever actually attended 1 trial, and that was a bench trial. In 2020 and 2021, I had 4 trials, all of them were bench trials and 3 of them happened over either BlueJeans or Zoom.
2022 was my breakout year for jury trials. I attended 2 jury trials; one of the was a 4-day trial and the other was a 5-day trial. As I navigated my way through this process, I thought that you might find what I’ve learned useful.
I have three “pro tips.” First, be organized. Be organized. The attorney that you are supporting will be working 18+ hours a day. They will be constantly bombarded with questions and thoughts and interruptions by the client; they will be trying to keep up with the witnesses and the evidence presented by the other side. When they ask for something, they may not even be super coherent. Do what you can to help them out. Organization will make your job easier; it will make their job easier.
Second, test your equipment. If you are going to be using any tech at the court house, ignore the fact that the equipment you are using is the exact same equipment you used the last time and that the set up is the exact same set up you used last time. Test your equipment. In courthouses like the Federal courthouses, or like in the new Johnson County, Kansas courthouse, there are multiple options for presenting exhibits, and these options are best explored before the jury is sitting there waiting for the exhibit to come up. I know that this is a rookie mistake, and therefore, I’m sure it should be emphasized all the more.
My third “pro tip”: prioritize researching jurors. Practice researching people, just random people. Know the ends and outs of looking people up on CaseNet, Pacer, Kansas District Court Public Access site, through a search engine and, of course, on as many social media sites as possible. Know how to use these sites as efficiently as possible. Juror lists usually come down at the last minute and you have minimal time to do any research on these random citizens that will decide the outcome of your client’s case. But don’t stop when the jury is selected; spend some time getting to know the public presence of your jurors. Again, this group of people will be in charge of determining the outcome of the case. It’s only polite to make this experience as relatable as possible to them.
These are my “pro tips” for successfully navigating a jury trial. Feel free to leave your own pro tips in the comments.