Customer Stories

How Thomas Vidal builds his case and creates winning arguments with Aeon Timeline

Thomas Vidal is a partner in Pryor Cashman’s Litigation, Media + Entertainment, Intellectual Property, and Technology Groups.

He represents a diverse roster of clients including media companies, software developers, entrepreneurs, film distributors, VOD platforms, recording artists, motion picture production companies, and retailers, among many others.

An experienced and trusted trial attorney, he handles a range of civil matters on the state and federal levels.

Here he talks about the importance of capturing and tagging data, establishing a clear chronology of facts, and how Aeon Timeline helps him sort through his data to present a compelling case.

Moving beyond boxes of documents

When Thomas spoke with us, he had just completed a case involving 12 straight days of witness testimony. Cross-referencing those witness statements, combining them with other supporting documents, and forming a clear understanding of the case represents a significant challenge.

"Untangling factual disputes is critical in any litigation, but it has a particular challenge in my cases. I have highly complex, highly factually-interdependent cases. The common thread running through the cases I handle is they’re messy — not the cases themselves, but the things that happened that led people to come talk to me.

There is usually lots of facts, lots of witnesses, lots of documents with information. Being able to synthesise and digest all of that information, and to do it with any kind of ease, is challenging. We can all sit down with boxes and boxes of legal pads and write everything out, use index cards, and move them around, but getting data out of people’s heads and out of pieces of paper is the challenge.

Making a relational database that allows you to have robust tagging — these five people are tied to this fact, this is the person who said the fact, these are some of the witnesses to the fact — that is not a simple undertaking. A tool like Aeon Timeline has been a lifesaver for those things."

Keeping track of all of the needles

For Thomas, gaining access to data is only a small part of the problem: the bigger challenge lies in identifying the relevant information, finding which facts can be verified, linking them to a common theme, and turning that into a compelling argument.

"I am a process-oriented person — I don’t think about it in terms of a tool, but in terms of the process of preparing a case for trial. A client comes in, you learn all this information in an interview, you’ve got to put that information somewhere.

I use Aeon Timeline from the moment a case comes into the office. It is a great repository for case information. I lose sleep at night if I think something is slipping through the cracks, and Aeon Timeline is a great tool to make sure that doesn't happen.

Let’s say there is a fact: it might have come from the mouth of a witness; it might be something sourced from an email or a contract; or a statement from some government body. Those little pieces, you can look at them as raw ingredients, and there will be thousands of them.

The first part of case analysis is making sure we catalogue all the facts, and then making sure we can find the needles in the haystack. Being able to relate a fact, who said it, who disputes it: five people were in this room when it was said, nine people received this email, whatever it might be. Being able to tie the witnesses, the documents, and the fact itself together are something.

Then, if I’m going to examine a witness on a witness stand or in a deposition, I can find all the facts that we know that this witness might know about, or have said, and it helps us prepare how we are going to question them."

The importance of clear chronology

With so many sources of information and conflicting accounts, establishing an accurate timeline of events is an important step in determining the true facts of a case.

"I learned very early on that chronologies are hugely important in litigation. That sounds obvious — somebody walked into a store, they slipped on a banana peel, then hurt their back, now they’re injured, they can’t do the types of things they used to — of course chronology matters.

But it matters in a more nuanced manner than that.

When you have six different witnesses that all experienced some event, everybody experiences it differently — they saw it differently, they remember it differently — and that’s not even introducing the fact that some people might be lying about it.

Truthful people may see the same thing from different ways, and trying to synthesise these different views into what this actually means, and what the sort of “truth” actually is about something, is difficult without having a good chronology.

Having a chronology that enables you to comprehensively draw in all that material, and look at each individual tree in the forest as well as looking for deeper patterns, is really powerful. That’s one of the things I love about Aeon Timeline — it enables you to see very granular details, and to see bigger picture patterns."

Finding facts to support your case

With the facts captured and linked with relationships, and a chronology established, the final step in Thomas's process is to identify the key facts that will be used to argue the case from both sides. By using tools within Aeon Timeline to filter and compare facts, he can drill into the important facts that will help build a persuasive case.

"In Aeon Timeline 3, being able to stack two timelines together, so you can look at the facts simultaneously from both sides' perspectives, this is an extremely powerful feature.

When I tag my facts, I have a whole set of facets that I have added to my case template. For a particular fact, I have sources for a fact, witnesses to a fact, people that dispute it.

One of the things I will do is run these detailed reports: I might want to look at all the witnesses that have all facts that are favourable to me, or see all the facts that are undisputed. I can drill down and make sub reports for those things.

It is a great tool to make sure that you can see connections within facts and data within a case, and figure out how to create persuasive arguments around those facts — we have all of these facts that support us, and all of these facts that don’t support us, what’s the theme? How do we make sure that the facts that support us really make a difference, and the ones that don’t, how do we rebut them?"

Interview with Thomas Vidal

What would you say to someone considering adopting Aeon Timeline?

As a lawyer who has to deal with facts - which is all of us — this is a powerful tool to be able to use to capture those facts and to be able to present them. It is a great tool to make sure that you can see connections within facts and data within a case, and figure out how to create persuasive arguments around those facts.

What advice would you have for someone new to Aeon Timeline?

If you can launch Microsoft Excel or build a table in Microsoft Word, you can use Aeon Timeline. If you want to get nerdy about how to structure your case analysis, you can drill down into defining templates. Those features enhance your productivity across cases or your entire practice.

But just out of the box, Aeon Timeline works great. There are a few times where I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with all the details built into my own template, so I will just start one using a basic template, put the facts in, and as the case develops we will migrate it to a custom template.

Do you include timelines in your court presentations?

Timeline view is fantastic. I export subsets to PDF documents that I can use to present to a client or include a snapshot into a court document. Sometimes courts just say “give me a listing of what happened”, so they have kind of mile markers of where things are, and a lot of times we will create timelines of those things.

Since adopting Aeon Timeline, I haven’t been in a position where I have to create a poster board or a computer graphic that has a lengthy timeline, but I have done a lot of that in my past cases, so it's only a matter of time.
Thomas Vidal is a partner in Pryor Cashman’s Litigation, Media + Entertainment, Intellectual Property, and Technology Groups.

Vidal represents the cool kids (entertainment), the nerds (tech), and the suits (entrepreneurs, investors, and the C-suite).

Read more on the Pryor Cashman website ›

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