Many of our cases take months or years to take from start to finish. But the way we finish is as important as how we start. I’ve written in a previous blog post that we take on cases with the knowledge that we will often be engaged in the process for quite some time. Direct appeals and habeas corpus can take years as you assemble the file, get the transcripts, coordinate witness schedules for evidentiary motions, and wait for a briefing schedule. And major felony cases at the trial level take some time as we try to negotiate pre-indictment settlements or as we get through lengthy and complex motions. When the case is all over, it is important to be deliberated about how the file is closed and here are some things we do in our office at the end of the case.
- First, we think about whether the case is actually over. There can often be loose ends that need to be tied. If we were successful in the appeal, for instance, there is a whole process involved in getting the client brought back from the prison system and getting the case transitioned back over to a pre-trial posture. This time can be perfect for working out the case. And decisions need to be made regarding the client’s representation if there will be a second trial. The case is not over until it is closed in the court system or until it is handed off to new counsel. If we have been successful in getting a person off of a registry, it can be important to get all of the necessary paperwork forwarded to the agency that is responsible for maintaining it. There can be more steps than one might imagine in ending a case.
- We send a letter to the client and the client’s family reinforcing that the case is over, explaining what we did, and inviting questions about the process and the conclusion. It can be important to clarify that the case is at its end in writing. And often this letter can prompt further questions. I always encourage the client to keep in touch as there may be things down the road where I can be of assistance.
- I send thank you notes. If any person helped in the case, whether that was an expert, an attorney who answered a question, a person at a government agency who helped me with something, or lay witnesses who provided letters, thank you notes are great to let people know how they helped. And expressions of gratitude are good for the person writing the thank you note. I will also send a thank you note to the person who referred the case to me way back at the beginning. When you refer a case, it is nice to hear how things worked out.
- If there are things that were not scanned, we get them scanned in. Then we make the paper file available for the client to pick up. One day, I hope that storage buildings as repositories of for closed files will be a thing of the past.
- If any of the motions in our case can serve as a form for future cases, we move a Word version over into our form bank. And if we think that any of the cases we found throughout the course of the case will be helpful for future research, we move those over into our topical research bank.
- We close the file in Rocketmatter. And we move the file to an external hard drive and off of our active data system.
We are constantly working on our systems in the office. A consistent closing system is instrumental to a practice’s success. And it provides a helpful moment to reflect on all of the people who come together for us to give a case our very best effort. Closing is as important as opening, and we work to close things out in a thoughtful and deliberate way.