The biggest favour you can do yourself is to get all the letters from your desk drawer and to get them organised and in a folder or ring binder. The next best thing you can do is to put all the letters in reverse chronological order. That means the oldest letter is at the bottom of the pile – with the most recent bit of correspondence on top.

Here’s why

Most of what you and your adviser needs to know is probably in your papers;

We need to cut to the chase and find out what’s going to happen to you next;

The only way we can find out if the other side is entitled in law to take that next step is to see if they’ve done what they’re supposed to – when they were supposed to do it.

You may need to prepare a witness statement where you will need to talk about events as they happened – and you’re going to need those papers to prove your case.

It reveals what’s relevant

Most importantly of all, putting your papers in chronological order will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ cases – and it will help your adviser find them.

This is important because –

The things you think are very important may not be relevant in law.

Things you think aren’t very important may be the things that make or break your case.

Unless your adviser sees all of the papers, and someone puts them in order, it’s going to be hard to give you a steer.

Most people come to me with their letters and documents in opened envelopes. As they tell me their story, they had me their documents – one letter at a time.

I try to convince people to give me everything they’ve got, but some are reluctant to let go – and they hand me letters to punctuate the points they’re making, one at a time.

One letter will be from 1991. The next from 2007. Finally, I’ll get handed a letter from this year and think I’m really onto something – only to find 20 minutes later that a Court Order was made a month ago requiring you to leave your flat, pay money or to stay away from a person or place.

Meanwhile, the clock’s ticking.

This case will be easier to deal with

Sift through your papers, putting the oldest paper at the bottom of the pile and the most recent on top. Get a ring binder and a hole punch and put your beautifully ordered papers in the binder/lever arch file. Next time you receive or send a letter, place it (or a copy) on the top.

Simple, but not easy.

The pay-off for keeping a tidy file is you will have any paper asked for to hand, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do next – and your story will be much clearer – to you and to others.

All of this makes it easier for someone to help you – or for you to explain yourself to a judge.

You’ll save yourself time and money

You can ask a lawyer to do the paper sift for you (just like you can get someone to pair your socks) – but you will end up paying for this service – one way or another. The cost to you with a pro bono lawyer is their time spent tidying papers v researching and advising you on the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Make it easy for others to understand your case by getting your own papers in order.

You will feel less stressed

Oh, we’ll get to the emotional highs and lows of being a litigant in person. One thing you can do to control your stress level is to get a grip on the papers. Rather than having a festering pile of papers in disarray – yours are in order and to hand. You’re ready to make the most out of your lawyer’s time – or to start preparing your own case.

And finally

You might think, in an Employment case for example, that you should put everything Curly did to you in one file, what Moe said in another and what Larry didn’t do in a third file.

IMHO, that approach to filing will make it harder for someone else to see the cumulative effect of all three’s behaviour.  The story’s still much clearer when it’s presented chronologically.