Investigative Tips for Paralegals
guest author: Sheridan Shauntee, MSPP
Purpose: Whether compiling documents for discovery, interviewing prospective clients, parties to a case, or witnesses, the role of the paralegal in the capacity of investigator is to assist the attorney in fact gathering to determine the validity of an entity of interest, or issues of a case.
The following may be used as a guide for investigations:
- Use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- Request in writing from governmental agencies public records: driving histories, postal change of addresses, municipal and civil involvement, property information, and licensing to assist in gathering pertinent information.
- Use the Internet (free and fee services)
- Discern between the free and fee based information available depending on type of information needed both free and fee services may not provide the information most relevant for investigation purpose, specifically free sites in regards to accuracy.
- Social Media Searches, even if limited: photos, video, posts, and comments, provide some insight on an entities' activities.
- Research databanks, such as Westlaw, can assist by pulling from multiple sources to create an entity profile faster than multiple written public records requests.
- Allow time for a recorded statement or written questionnaire to elicit as much information as possible before requesting a subpoena.
- Request consent to use the information provided for legal purpose, and authorization to obtain additional information for records.
- Exhaust Measures
- Depending on the purpose of investigation, make sure to ask questions, double check sources of information used, make note of questionable information provided, and request advice of other professionals in the field.
- Discontinue investigating when information gathered becomes repetitive or irrelevant.
- Organize Material
- Thoroughly review (compare/contrast) information gathered to cross-reference facts against material previously provided to identify inconsistences.
- Develop charts/chronologies summarizing information gathered to access important details or physical documents quickly.
Throughout information gathering the above can be repeated for updates at any point. The role of the paralegal as investigator is to ensure that the information obtained is relevant and assists in the conclusion of an attorney making an informed decision in planning for client representation, or identifying issues, and difficult factors throughout a case.
Sheridan Shauntee is a paralegal with Crivello Carlson, S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. Her principal areas of experience are personal injury litigation, civil liberties, and case management. She has extensive knowledge in legal databases and document procurement.
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