Program Review: Anatomy of a Civil Lawsuit: Documents from Start to Finish in Dockets

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This was easily one of the more entertaining and enjoyable sessions of the conference - and yet, still educational. The session focused on the timeline of a civil lawsuit, augmented with tips on searching dockets (mostly specific to Bloomberg dockets) and the treasures that can be found within dockets if you know where to look - as long as you have some patience, tenacity and creativity. Luckily, they're presenting to librarians.

Jim Murphy of Bloomberg moderated the session along with providing his expertise on Bloomberg Law's Dockets database. Mary E. Matuszak, Director of Library Services for the New York District Attorney's Office, and Christine Sellers, Research Specialist at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough L.L.P. opened the session with a surprising skit.

It was a skit about shoes. Yes, shoes. (I hope I got this right...) It seems Christine borrowed shoes from Mary. Christine fell while walking in the shoes and ruined them. Christine is suing Mary for falling. Mary is countersuing for her shoes being ruined. At least I think that's how it went down.

I'd like to say that such a petty lawsuit would have no place in the American justice system. But who am I kidding?

Their (thankfully) fake lawsuit provided an ongoing construct for illustrating the back and forth filings that occur when a lawsuit is initially filed through the case conclusion.

The data points within a docket were reviewed including a particularly interesting trivia point that the first two digits of a federal district court case number (before the colon) is the vicinage number (as in vicinity) for identifying a particular court within a federal district.

The tips for what you can get from a docket beyond just the timeline of the case were very useful. For example, you can use the docket as a point of contact information for attorneys. Or you may check the complaint as a source of information for addresses of the parties to the suit. When you're reviewing a rather large docket and need to focus in on the more important filings look for key "ritual language" such as "in support of motion for summary judgment" rather than just "motion for summary judgment" which could include all the various scheduling orders or motions to submit extra pages in the brief. Corporate disclosure statements, filed at the beginning of a case in order for a judge to know whether she needs to recuse herself, may be a good source for information on company hierarchical relationships. But exhibits are where the "juicy" stuff is - contracts, license agreements, expert reports, deposition excerpts.

Christine took the lead on the last portion of the presentation on state dockets. She illustrated her examples with the online case information systems available in the state courts of South Carolina. She advised always searching the home county as well as the surrounding counties of the individual or company in question.

I found this to be a very rewarding presentation and I found the presenters to be knowledgeable and engaging. My only complaint is that they were sorely pressed for time (only 45 minutes) despite how quickly they moved through the material. This would be an excellent program to bring back at future meetings - though a longer time slot would definitely be warranted.

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