In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recommends that we "begin with the end in mind." You start with an image of where you want to end up - whether in your life, your career or a lawsuit - and devise a plan on how to get there. When you first get a case, you need to envision its resolution. Do you prevail at summary judgment? Does it settle at mediation? If so, how much do you hope to settle for? Does it go to trial? If so, what verdict are you hoping for?
Start by thinking how you and your client define a "win." Ironically, with only 2% of cases going to trial, you probably will not define a win as delivering a closing argument worthy of Clarence Darrow. In fact, the best "win" you can muster may be quite modest. You have to take stock of the law and the facts and based on what you have to work with, decide what your goal is. If you are plaintiff’s counsel, the best you may be able to hope for is to escape summary judgment and hobble to mediation, getting something for your client. If you are defense counsel, the best you may be able to muster is settling the case for $5 million instead of $7 million.
Once you "have the end in mind," devise a plan which details how to get there. What law do you have to research? What facts do you need to develop? What records do you need to get your hands on? What depositions do you need to take? Think about every step you need to take and plot it all out on a yellow pad. Anything missing? Anything out of order? Add to, subtract from and rearrange the items on your to do list. Once you are satisfied with it, prepare a letter to the client outlining your plan of attack. This way, your client has your blueprint for the case, and knows exactly where you are going and how you plan on getting there, and just as importantly, has a sense about how much it will all cost. Keep this letter close to you. You will refer to it regularly throughout the case and modify it as your case evolves. This letter will keep you focused on attaining your desired goals.