Helping Clients Help Themselves

While attorneys will write almost all documents related to a client’s case, a client may be asked to take an active role in helping to draft an affidavit.

An affidavit is a written, factual statement signed by the person making it (the “affiant”) and sworn to be true before a notary. Affidavits have a number of purposes in litigation; they may be used to provide testimony when a live witness is not needed, they can demonstrate that a document is a true and correct copy of an original, and they can provide a lawyer with narrative about the facts of the case and the reason for the suit–the story of what happened. An affidavit can be attached to other documents filed with the court as evidence to strengthen your case, or it can become a helpful reference in your attorney’s files.

When utilizing an affidavit as the narrative for the case, the attorney might ask the client to use his or her own written words to describe who, what, when, where, how, and why–any information about the case. Remember that a specific, detailed piece of writing is typically more informative and persuasive than a vague one, so be sure to include dates, names, facts, and details.

Vague: And then the van rear-ended me and pushed me forward into the other car.

Specific: Even though I pulled my car as far onto the right-hand shoulder as possible, the dark blue minivan still clipped my back left wheel and bumper with enough force to propel my vehicle forward ten feet into the rear bumper of the red sedan in front of me.

Vague: He told me he didn’t get the check and I had to move out by the end of the month.

Specific: On May 3, 2012, Mr. Landlord told me in a telephone call that he had not received Check #1001 in the amount of $900.00 for my May rent and that therefore I had to move out of 202 North Street before May 31.

The attorney will then render the client’s testimony into the form and format of an affidavit, including an introductory paragraph declaring that the affiant is competent to testify, has personal knowledge of the facts, and swears that the facts are true. It is important never to invent or exaggerate information in an affidavit, yet it is equally important to include all the relevant information. The final document must be as factually accurate as possible.  Here is a sample affidavit, incorporating this advice.

After the client reviews the draft of the affidavit, perhaps contributing more knowledge, he or she will sign the document in person in front of a notary, who will notarize the document, making it a valid affidavit. It is critical that if the attorney has misquoted the client, or summarized something incorrectly, that the client speak up and correct the affidavit.

What does this mean for you?

If you are considering retaining an attorney, write down a narrative of what happened to you. This will not only help you remember and discuss your situation with precision, but it will also help your attorney know what questions to ask to elicit the best details for your affidavit.  When hiring a lawyer, make sure you find someone who is taking the time and effort to understand your story.  After a jury verdict is the wrong time to realize that your lawyer doesn’t understand your case!

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