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How to Provide Documents To Your Lawyer (Efficiently)

In many cases, especially commercial disputes and insurance claims, documents are key. Generally, documents begin in the possession of the client, and must be located and turned over to us (at least if you want us to be able to try to use them to help with your case). Upon receipt, documents must be reviewed and filed by type (and date) within our filing system (which is later incorporated into your Affidavit of Documents). Haphazard production of documents by clients (i.e. producing a garbage bag full of random papers or the digital equivalent thereof, or producing documents in a piecemeal fashion) means that significantly more time than necessary must be dedicated to make sense of and organize what has been produced, leading to much higher costs and in some cases, sub optimal outcomes as documents or the significance thereof are missed or overlooked. To best protect my client’s interests, I ask them to consider the following when providing me with documents relating to their case:

    1. While you have likely been dealing with your problem for a significant period of time (and know the facts inside and out), it is brand new to me. Much like movies, things are easier to follow when they start at the beginning.
    2. In terms of documents, start by determining what type of documents you have or need to look for. For instance, you may have emails, texts, letters, contracts, pictures, computer files, tax returns, accounting records and perhaps court documents and/or medical records. As a lawyer, I will want to see everything I can that pertains to the dispute (please let me decide whether it’s relevant, it’s easy for me to disregard something unimportant, but I can’t make something important appear just by willing it so). If you have questions about how to produce something, just ask. I’m happy to assist my clients by helping them determine how to best organize the documents in their case.
    3. Next, sort your documents by type (i.e. letters, pictures etc.). It is generally much cheaper for you to do this than me, and if I have to do it, its work that you will be billed for. If you’re dealing with paper documents, start by putting letters in a pile with other letters, contract documents with revisions and addendums, tax returns with other tax returns, emails with other emails, court documents with other court documents and so on. If you’re dealing with electronic documents, it’s probably best to touch base with me as to how they should be named and organized.
    4. Once you have your documents sorted by type, further organize them by date. For example, it would make sense to provide your 2015 tax return, followed by your 2016 tax return, then your 2017 tax return, and the same holds true for other types of documents. As you can likely appreciate, it would be hard to follow your income if your 2017 tax return were provided, followed by your 2015 return and then your 2016 return, especially if tens or hundreds of documents of that type had been produced (in random order).
    5. Once sorted by type and date, you can send me your productions in paper format (if you must, although I prefer electronic documents as I run an electronic practice). This is best done all at one time, as it is impractical when done in a piecemeal fashion. Also, I prefer to receive copies that you do not later need back.
    6. My preference is to receive documents electronically. To the extent possible, documents provided electronically should be in pdf format. Taking photos of things like contracts (and producing jpeg files for this purpose) is a non-starter. Additional thought must be given to the naming of electronic documents, so it is best to touch base with me prior to sending me your files (i.e. file 1, file 2 . . . file 377 is not particularly helpful). Once files have been properly sorted and labelled, they should also be sent to me all at one time using the service. Ultimately, your documents will be organized electronically into an Affidavit of Documents which takes the below electronic format, and the closer you can provide me to that, the more time I can spend working on the bigger parts of your case that matter.
    7. As cases commonly involve hundreds of documents, please do not get into the habit of sending me multiple emails, each containing a small number of documents. As I have many clients and receive a high volume of emails, it is generally not practical for me to receive files in this manner, and will lead to higher fees and potentially sub optimal outcomes.

    If you have questions about how best to organize your documents, don’t hesitate to ask. For your questions about litigation in Ontario, you can reach us at 647-495-8995.

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