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Discovery quick tips

16 February 2012
Discovery Quick Tips – Conducting a Successful Exchange of Information With the Other Side guest author: Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP


Generously reprinted with permission by the Institute for Paralegal Education (IPE). This article came from the IPE monthly newsletter and you can subscribe by contacting them at ipefeedback@nbi-sems.com.

There are five basic formal discovery devices: interrogatories; requests for disclosure; requests for admissions; requests for production; and depositions; plus many more informal discovery devices. Following are my quick tips to get you started on a successful exchange of information with the other side:

  • Work Up the File Before Formulating Your Discovery Plan.   This means conducting or studying the intake questionnaire and the Complaint/Answer. Formulate a discovery plan based on the facts and allegations contained in the Complaint and/or defenses raised in the Answer.
  • Read the Complaint Carefully to See What Elements Need to be Proven or Disproven.   Make a list of these elements as a go-by as far as what type of information you will need in order to prove or disprove a claim(s). For example, in contract and commercial cases, the issues raised in the complaint are often decided by records, documents, and substantive law. Making a list of the elements necessary provides a blueprint of the type of information you will need to collect.
  • Ensure You Use a Reliable Calendaring System   Sometimes rights or privileges can be waived if not completed or answered on time, and sanctions, while rare, may apply. Always remember that if a date changes, it likely needs to be changed several months ahead. Do not count the day of receipt, but do count every day, including intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. Fed. R. Civ. P. 6.
  • Under the Federal Rules, Attorneys for the Parties to a Lawsuit Must Meet for a Scheduling Conference After Service of the Complaint to Plan for Discovery Deadlines.   The parties will need to agree on this discovery plan, and submit the proposed plan to the court. The judge must issue the scheduling order within the earlier of 120 days after any defendant has been served with the complaint or 90 days after any defendant has appeared. Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(2).
  • Complete as Much Informal Discovery as Possible Prior to Embarking on Formal Discovery.   This can include – depending on what type of case you are working on – procuring and analyzing police reports, accident reports, insurance claims, FOIA requests, employment, and academic histories, amongst others.
  • Google is Your Friend.   Embrace this simple yet powerful tool. Research opposing counsel (OPC), a plaintiff or defendant, witnesses, and experts this way first.
  • If You Need to Conduct Legal Research, Try Google Scholar for FREE   Go to http://scholar.google.com/ and click the bubble titled “Legal opinions and journals.” You will be amazed how much information can be retrieved here, including full case opinions and law journal articles, treatment history, and a list of cases citing to your case on point.
  • Get Rid of Metadata (i.e. data about the data) by Converting All Word or WP documents Into PDF or Other Imaging Documents Before Sharing by Electronic Means With Opposing Counsel (OPC).   This prevents OPC or anyone else you don’t want to see your changes or edits from seeing them in an electronic or emailed document. Just because you cannot see metadata does not mean it’s been adequately erased. If possible, save the Word document as a PDF rather than scanning a hard copy to cut down on file size.
  • Interview Your Client in Depth, All of Your Witnesses, and Any Possible OPC Witnesses That Will Speak With You, Along With any Disinterested Witnesses.   Memorialize the interviews on some type of medium, such as on tape, in order to nail down witnesses to their statements. It is important to talk to these folks as soon as possible while the information is still fresh in their minds, or before they have reservations about speaking to you. Many times, witnesses reluctant to talk to an attorney will have no problem speaking to a paralegal. You can – and must – identity yourself as a paralegal, but often this will work to your advantage, so utilize that title for the client’s benefit.
  • Sometimes It’s Best to Play Dumb When Interviewing Witnesses.   Now is not the time to dazzle with your vast array of knowledge about the case. The same folks that are hesitant to share information with attorneys likely do not appreciate a condescending tone or intimidating manner. Most people want to be helpful. Let the witness do most of the talking.
  • If Applicable, Be Certain to Send Out Authorization Forms to OPC for medical records (ensure the form is HIPAA compliant!), tax, Social Security, employment, Department of Labor, and military records with initial discovery requests.
  • Summarize the Records Received if That is Part of Your Job Duties, or Read Through the Summaries Your Colleagues Have Completed.   Highlight those bits of information likely to prove or disprove your case. Streamline by eliminating “clutter” information, or those data chunks that are superfluous to the issues at hand.
  • Investigate the OPC’s Client, OPC, OPC’s Witnesses, and Yes, Your Own Attorney’s Client Via Paid Site Like www.publicdata.com or www.accurint.com, and Don’t Forget to Search Free Sites Like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.   Much publicly available information is posted on social media sites. The OPC likely advised her client to remove online personal data, but often you will find that, for whatever reason, folks don’t always heed their counsel’s advice. (It is unethical to friend somebody for purposes of mining personal information, but anything posted publicly is freely available for you to use.)
  • One of My Favorite FREE Resources to Facilitate Discovery is Craig Ball’s Awesome Web-Site With Tons of Informal Discovery Information and Links at Craig Ball’s “Sampler of Informal Discovery Links.”   Craig Ball is a well-known board-certified attorney and certified computer forensic examiner based in Austin, Texas, but writes about a wide variety of discovery-related topics that apply anywhere, including extensive information about eDiscovery. You can visit his web-page here.
  • Familiarize Yourself With the Discovery Rules Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.   Most states’ discovery rules are the same as, or very similar to, the federal rules.
  • My Favorite FREE Site for the FRCP, federal codified statutes, links to state statutes, and even a FREE online legal dictionary and encyclopedia is Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII) located on the Web at http://www.law.cornell.edu/.
  • Annual December 1 Updates to Federal Rules are available at http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/?q=rules.
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP, is a freelance paralegal and writer in Houston, Texas. She conducts medical, legal and factual research, investigations, and client interviews. Ms. Hartsfield prepares all manner of legal documents, including pleadings, witness lists and exhibits, trial notebooks, demand and settlement documents, and deposition schedules and summaries. She also coordinates and manages document production, locates and interviews witnesses and experts, and organizes pleading and trial exhibits. Ms. Hartsfield assists lawyers at trial, gathers and reviews medical records, and maintains general client contact. She recently worked as a Webmaster for a personal injury law firm in the Houston area, and started their social media marketing efforts. Ms. Hartsfield earned her AAS degree from the Center for Advanced Legal Studies and will graduate with a B.S. degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Houston Downtown later this year. She is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants, the American Association of Notaries, and the Electric Data Extraction Network. You can find Sami’s blog on the Web at LegallyBlog.

Institute for Paralegal Education • 1218 McCann Drive • Altoona, WI 54720 • © 2011, Institute for Paralegal Education, a division of NBI, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If interested, please see my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

Discovery top ten fundamentals

NOTE: I am not an attorney. This foregoing is not to be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, consider hiring an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

You can find Sami on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

 

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Copyright 2012 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved
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One Comment
  1. Hi Sami,

    I also am in the business of showing people how to do Pro Se in many different courts. I have a new website. Please check out http://www.wix.com/melodymorse2/medinalegal

    It’s about representing yourself Pro Se in many courts and Legal Credit Repair that really corrects the problems that most people have when they have bad credit.

    Melody

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