Not long ago, I served as chairperson of a tripartite arbitration panel. Near the close of the complicated case, one of the arbitrators indicated he was having trouble understanding the sequence of events. At his suggestion, we asked the parties to provide timelines. They proved extremely helpful in enabling us to visualize what had happened and when.
Recently, I learned about a free add-on for Microsoft Powerpoint that makes it extremely easy to create timelines for litigation (or any other purpose). It is called Office Timeline and it can be downloaded for free. A Plus Edition costs $29.95 and includes additional templates and customization options.
Office Timeline uses a four-step wizard to make it simple to create a timeline or project schedule. First, you start by selecting from one of four templates — Metro, Gantt, Phases or Intervals. (As noted, the Plus Edition includes additional templates.) Next, the wizard prompts you to enter milestones, or events that occurred on specific dates, and allows you to set various customization options as you enter them. From there, you are prompted to enter tasks, which it defines as intervals or phases during which an activity persists. Finally, you are given options for modifying the appearance of your timeline.
That’s it. Click the check mark and your timeline is created as a PowerPoint slide. Of course, you can still customize and modify any element.
As an alternative to using the wizard, Office Timeline lets you just as easily create a timeline by copying and pasting data from Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project. However, this option is available only in the Plus Edition.
All of Timeline’s options appear within their own tab on the ribbon bar in PowerPoint, so it is easy to adjust content and styles.
Office Timeline is designed to work with PowerPoint 2007, 2010, and 2013 for Windows. Regrettably, it does not work on the Mac OS, although the site’s help pages indicate it may work within a Windows virtual environment running on a Mac.
Although Office Timeline was not developed exclusively for the legal profession, its blog includes a post describing its use for making litigation timelines.
Unless you are a timeline power user, the free edition is all you need to make a simple but attractive timeline. I tried it out and had no problem finishing my first timeline in just minutes.