Phase I: The Time Line

Overview of the time line when interviewing witnesses:

  1. the time lineWhy do we want a Time Line?
    1. “One common feature of persuasive litigation stories is that they have a narrative structure…Think back to ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’… Chronological narratives such as ‘Jack and Beanstalk’ are…the typical medium of human communication…The importance of time line questioning…is that it helps you develop understandable and meaningful narrative structures. Lawyers as Counselors , at 113-114.
    2. In court, you typically elicit testimony in chronological order. Time lines are thus a preview of testimony. Lawyers as Counselors , at 117.
  2. When do we want a Time Line?
    1. At the start. Your contact with the witness should begin by developing a timeline from which you and the witness can explore particular events, in sequence. This timeline is the first phase of the interview.
  3. What are the three parts of the Time Line?
    1. They consist of discrete events;
    2. As much as possible, they are ordered chronologically;
    3. The events are substantially free of specific details. Lawyers as Counselors , at 113-114.
    4. Example:We got to the club that night and had a couple of drinks. A while later, we kind of got into it with this big biker guy and the bouncer broke it up. Later that night, as the bar closed down, we left, and that is when the fight happened and he assaulted me.
  4. How to do it.
    1. 1st Step – Orient the Witness to the Interview Process.
      1. Greet the witness – engage in sufficient small talk for both parties to relax.
      2. Explain why you are there, and the interview structure you will use. Explain:My job is to find out the facts, and that means that to start, You will do most of the talking. I will mainly listen, take notes, and ask a few questions.
      3. If the witness is potentially hostile, you may have to familiarize them with our system – that it is okay, and even expected for witnesses to talk to all lawyers in the case.
      4. Have them create the time line:Let’s start by you telling me, from start to finish, how you are tied to this case. Start wherever you think the story starts.Include all the events you can remember, whether you think they are important or not.

      2nd Step: Elicit Events.

      1. Use open-ended time line questions, of which there are three types, to build the initial time line: (a) Advancing questions: e.g.What happened next? (b) Reversing questions: e.g.What, if anything happened between your argument that night, and the phone call you just mentioned at 9 a.m. the next morning? (c) Time Neutral Questions:Did anything else important happen that morning?

      Summarize periodically.

    2. Listen more than you talk.
      1. “Park” new information. (a) As questions produce data, either in the upper or lower portion of a T, you will often be sorely tempted to ask about that new data before exhausting the initial event or topic…If you follow that temptation, you may become sidetracked and neglect to return to the initial event. Instead, resist the temptation and ‘park’ new data until you complete the initial ‘T’. Id. at 173.
      2. If information comes out about a new event, do not get sidetracked.
      3. Note the information, then steer the conversation back to the event in question. Example:We should definitely talk about that later, but for now, let’s talk some more about the phone call.
      4. Go back to the parked information on after you complete the ongoing T.

       

When do we want a Time Line?

Listen more than you talk.