Trial Notebook: Why It’s Important (All You Need To Know)

What is a trial notebook?

What does a trial notebook contain?

How to create a trial notebook?

You may have many more questions about trial notebooks. 

In this article, we will break down what is a trial notebook and why it’s so important.

Are you ready?

Let’s get started…

What is a trial notebook?

A trial notebook is what a trial attorney will use to keep track of his or her ideas, thought process, litigation strategy and notes on the overall management of the trial.

Every litigation lawyer’s trial notebook will be different.

A trial notebook is a personal notebook helping lawyers handle their hearings.

Some lawyers will prepare a trial notebook for every hearing they attend, whether for a temporary order or a trial on merits.

Often, lawyers will prepare a trial notebook for important cases that involve many variables the lawyer does not want to forget.

By developing a trial notebook, the lawyer can carefully think about the case, identify the key aspects of the legal issues, ensure that the litigation strategy is appropriate and make sure to get the hearing process organized.

What does a trial notebook contain?

Depending on the nature of the case, a lawyer can pretty much include anything in a trial notebook.

The trial notebook can contain:

  • Pleading documents
  • Deposition or deposition summaries
  • Discovery responses
  • Exhibits, material and other evidence
  • Pre-trial motions
  • List of witnesses
  • Description of the objective with each witness 
  • List of questions to ask the other party
  • Client datasheet
  • Opposition client data

What’s important is that the trial notebook contains the overall theme of the case and captures the information or documents in the order they are intended to be presented.

A trial lawyer may decide to start and end the hearing on merits in a certain way for maximum impact on the judge or jury, as the case may be.

Based on the lawyer’s desire to emphasize certain aspects of the case at the beginning of the hearing and some other aspects at the end, the trial notebook should contain the relevant information allowing the lawyer to connect each argument together in a well-structured manner.

At the end of the day, the trial notebook is the collection of the documents a litigation lawyer will need to successfully try a case based on the intended strategy or “game plan”.

How to create a trial notebook?

Creating a trial notebook is up to the trial lawyer’s preference.

Some lawyers simply require that their client file be organized in such a way that they can easily find what they are looking for.

Some other lawyers prefer to have a trial notebook with indexed pages and specific sections.

The trial notebook can be put in a folder, a binder or in expandable folders.

How to organize a trial notebook?

An effective trial notebook should be well organized.

There are different ways you can organize your trial notebook.

One way is to organize the notebook in alignment with the litigation strategy and sequence contemplated by the litigation lawyer.

This way, your trial notebook will not only serve as a guide helping the trial lawyer advance in the hearing but will also provide all the relevant information and details needed for every stage of the trial advancement.

Another way is to organize the documents and material based on category or topic.

The trial book can be organized by:

  • Inventory of exhibits
  • Witnesses 
  • Legal arguments

Again, a trial notebook is very personal to the trial lawyer and will be organized in such a way that will make sense to him or her.

When to create a trial notebook?

Your trial notebook can be created at any time.

In many cases, due to limited capacity and resources, the trial notebook will be created when the matter is booked for hearing on merits.

Another way is to start the trial notebook right from the commencement of the client mandate.

The trial notebook will be kept up-to-date and continually maintained as the lawsuit progresses in its procedural phases all the way to hearing on merits.

The advantage of this method is that you already have the trial notebook and it’s kept organized, so at any point in time, if it’s needed for an interim hearing or temporary order, you can rely on its content.

Trial notebook software

There are software vendors out there that have developed trial notebook software solutions as an ad-on to a law firm’s existing practice management software.

The trial notebook software is like a complete index of everything in your case.

You can navigate the content of your file by topic.

For example, by using the exhibits feature, you can see a record of all the exhibits in the file.

By looking at the witness feature, you can see a list of all witnesses along with the topics on which they are required to testify.

The typical features you’ll see in a trial notebook software are the following:

  • List of witnesses and issues related to each witness
  • Important issues related to the case
  • Timeline 
  • Proceeding calendar
  • Relationship between witnesses, documents and issues
  • Documents viewable directly through the application

Trial notebook checklist

In a detailed trial notebook, you can find the following items:

  • Pre-trial motions
  • Trial briefs 
  • Pleadings 
  • Summons 
  • Witness list
  • Witness information
  • Witness testimony 
  • Exhibit list
  • Exhibit worksheet
  • Exhibit notes
  • Opposing exhibits
  • Opposing witnesses
  • Opposing depositions
  • List of issues
  • Pleadings 
  • Presentation schedule 
  • Hearing strategy
  • Deposition transcript
  • Deposition summary
  • Case law research
  • Statutory basis
  • Court rules
  • Index 
  • References 

You can use this as a checklist in creating or organizing a trial notebook.

Top 8 reasons to create a trial notebook

There are many advantages to creating a trial notebook. 

We’ve identified some of the main reasons why you may want to consider creating a trial notebook if you are a litigation lawyer:

  1. You’ll master the details of your case
  2. Allows you to prepare your strategy in advance
  3. Helps you stay organized during trial
  4. Allows anyone to quickly understand the case basics
  5. Helps you fine-tune your legal arguments
  6. Helps you better prepare your client for trial
  7. Helps you better examine the witnesses 
  8. Helps you organize your thought 


Any matter that goes to trial is important.

Whether you are dealing with a small civil lawsuit or a mega-damage lawsuit, a trial lawyer goes into the ring to win.

However, to succeed, you need to be prepared.

And to prepare for trial, you need to create a trial notebook.

A trial notebook is a compilation or a collection of all the case documents, pleadings and material organized in a way that suits the trial lawyer’s needs.

A trial notebook can be organized in such a way as to lead the trial lawyer with the different steps of the trial starting from the opening statements all the way to the pleadings.

Others will organize their trial notebooks to reflect categories, sections or topics to better find their information during the trial.

No matter how you structure your trial notebook, the process of creating one and thinking about your trial on merits allows you to prepare your case.

You’ll be in a position to organize your thoughts, assemble your case, create the relationship between exhibits, witnesses and legal issues and so on.

The trial notebook allows trial lawyers to prepare their hearing based on a defined strategy and “game plan” so as to maximize their chance of success no matter the complexity of the lawsuit.