Gerard Chaliand has authored over 80 books and is one of the world’s leading thinkers on guerrilla warfare. I made the mistake once of asking him which countries he’d been to. He replied: “Ask me which countries I have not been to.” He’s been everywhere.

Gérard Chaliand, an international guerrilla warfare expert and friend, describes war as involving a combination of strategy, tactics and instinct. These ingredients are also necessary in legal work, especially for litigation and the resolution of disputes.

To develop a strategy or tactics it is best to find the most relevant and reliable facts. Otherwise you may rely purely on instincts.

Finding facts takes time, effort, energy and documentation. Facts are events, transactions or circumstances either seen, heard, experienced or documented. They are not opinion, suspicion, white lies, bent truths, hearsay or rhetoric.

1. Document facts, use this Chronology of Events Form

Here’s an efficient way to group facts in disputes and litigation.

This is the template form we’ve used for two decades and provided to clients for them to prepare the first version of their chronology of events

Prepare a chronology of events. Consider using the layout in the above Chronology of Events  template. Create a table with three columns and lots of rows.

  • In each row of the first column type the date for each event; if the date is uncertain indicate this.
  • In the second column type a short form description of each event.
  • In the third column, name or refer to the evidence for that event. It may be a conversation, an act, a failure to act, or a document (eg a letter, invoice, statement, or contract).

2. Video – How and why to prepare a chronology of events

This video explains how to do the job properly. Among other things it covers how to use the above Chronology of Events Form.

3. Warlords – a World War II case study on locating facts to shape strategy

Confirming, in disputes the first thing to do is to gain and remain in command over the facts. Let’s now test this concept. A cast study is provided by a brilliant four-part television documentary from 2007.

  • Warlords originated as a superb four-part 2007 television documentary assessing the level of strategy skill during WWII of Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and Roosevelt

    Warlords as broadcast by ABC Television illustrates how in World War II Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt and Hitler regularly communicated directly or via their diplomats or other intermediaries. Each was engaged in communicating information that involved a combination of spreading facts, lies, deception, half-truths or feel-good statements supported by no action. They did it between each other in letters, cables, diplomatic pacts and other written communications.

  • What makes Warlords interesting is its style of storytelling, structured around documentary evidence and quotes from such written communication. It resembles the legal process described above, because in part it is a legal process.
  • Warlords notes that key errors by the warlords in strategy, tactics and instinctive responses arose when the facts were ignored, misinterpreted or unavailable.
  • The TV series producers describe it in this fashion: “World War II was not only a military conflict. It was also a series of private psychological battles waged by the four great leaders: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. In these mental duels, the ‘warlords’ lied, schemed, charmed, flattered and cheated to win.” That quote sounds like what often happens in litigation and dispute resolution cases.
  • Warlords asks who was the best strategist during WWII – Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, or Winston Churchill? Spoiler alert – it was in that same order, from the most skillful to the worst based on the outcomes of the war. Stalin researched. Hitler did too little of that, trusting his instincts.

Tehran Conference with Joseph Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, on the veranda of the Soviet Union embassy in downtown Tehran, December 1943.

Ideally, decide to attack or defend only after you and your advisers have confidence about what are the facts in your case. A chronology of events keep the team on your side on the same page. That helps in many ways, including speaking with one voice to parties on the other side, be they individuals, corporations, their solicitors, barristers or others.

If you don’t know the facts you can’t assess your position or that of others in a dispute. Usually the risks of acting on such an uncertain basis are substantial.

A detailed chronology of events helps each participant in a case do what each does best in applying legal knowledge or otherwise responding to developments. Remember, in litigation and the resolution of disputes facts are often more important than the law. In costs terms gathering, assessing and documenting facts eats up vastly more financial and other resources than virtually any other activity in litigation and other modes of dispute resolution.

Noric Dilanchian