Getting everything you ask for in discovery from the opposing party, and organizing their discovery responses are critical for efficient case management and getting great results for your clients. Proper sorting and summarizing responses to interrogatories, documents and admissions is key to formulating strategic approaches to the case, preparing for depositions, supporting your client in settlement negotiations and helping judicial officers more easily understand facts and circumstances that may help them rule in your clients' favor.
- Check discovery responses carefully against your requests: After you receive the other party's submissions, check carefully to make sure they have completely responded to your requests. For example, if you have asked for checking account statements for a two-year range, make sure all 24 months are included. A party trying to conceal financial transactions may omit a month or two containing evidence of transactions that might impeach assertions about their finances. Also note any contradictions between admissions, answers to interrogatories and information on submitted documents and let your attorney know about them.
- Compose a deficiency letter: As you review the responses, list everything that is missing and use it as the basis of a letter to opposing counsel or pro se party that lists in specific detail the interrogatories they did not answer, or the documents they did not provide. In the letter provide a deadline for opposing party's responses. Note any documents provided that you did not request and bring them to the attention of the attorney. Such documents may form the basis for other areas of inquiry and supplemental discovery requests.
- Organize and file responses and documents for easy retrieval and review: Create very specific electronic subfolders within the Discovery folder for your case. The more specific the title of the file, the easier it will be to retrieve and use. For example, list each piece of real property in a separate electronic sub-folder by address or other unique identifier. Put all documents such as deeds, appraisals and mortgages into the same sub folder. Group statements from financial accounts by description of the account, last 4 digits of account number and name of the financial institution. Keep no more than 12 months in any sub-folder for a specific account.
- Summarize financial information as needed to illustrate your client's arguments: After relevant financial documents are organized, use Microsoft Excel or another spread sheet program to create summaries showing important information at a glance. Such summaries should be no more than one page if possible. Always title the summary with the account information and the date range of the summary. Include the statement “Not For Evidentiary Purposes” (the account statements themselves would be the evidence). For a selection of bank statements, at a minimum include the total deposits, withdrawals, electronic transfers and other types of transactions that might be relevant. This may help illustrate attempts to conceal funds or other assets by transferring them into other accounts. These summaries help the attorney find and easily refer to specific transactions that need to be explained in depositions or witness examination.
Complete and well-organized discovery saves time for you and your attorney and money for your client. More importantly, the thorough knowledge of the facts your side will gain can make the difference in achieving the results your client wants.
Michael H. Fink, Esq. JD, MPA is an attorney focusing primarily on family law. He is a senior associate with Arnold, Rodman & Kretchmer PLLC located in Minneapolis, MN. Mr. Fink is a frequent lecturer for the Institute for Paralegal Education and the National Business Institute.
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