Discovery


What is Discovery?  “A formal procedure established by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and corresponding state procedural rules in which parties to a lawsuit exchange information and documents in an effort to “discover” facts relevant to the lawsuit and identify potential witnesses and evidence.” [1]

The majority of litigation paralegals spend most of their time in the pre-trial stage of litigation.  There are two distinct stages of pre-trial discovery, the informal discovery stage and the formal discovery stage.  The formal discovery stage is also divided in two separate stages, the written and the “verbal.”  For purposes of this particular blog post I will concentrate on the written and will go on to the “verbal” portion of the discovery period in another post.

Informal Stage

Prior to the case being filed and in order for the attorney to decide if and how to bring the case to court, i.e. file the complaint.  You will be tasked with coming up with the preliminary information on the facts of the case.  In order to do that you will need to focus on the following:[2]

1) Locating and taking statement from potential witnesses;

2) Photographing and/or documenting the accident scene;

3) Locating, collecting, and preserving physical evidence; 
and

4) Photographing plaintiff’s injuries.

5) Newspaper articles;

6) Legal research on other similar incidents or claims;

7) Internet research to locate information on other similar incidents or claims;

6) Corporate searches and look-ups.[3]

Depending on what you come up with during the informal stage of discovery, and after meeting with the client and the attorney to figure out a strategy, the case can be filed in court.  The paralegal can, and some more experienced paralegals do, draft the complaint for attorney review.

Once the complaint is filed and the defendant files and serves his/her answers to the complaint the formal discovery period starts.

Formal Stage

A good paralegal must be very organized and able to stick to a very tight time frame.   At first glance, it looks like you will have all the time in the world to get the discovery done and the files organized prior to settlement or trial.  I know it’s easy to fall into that trap.  But believe you me, “time flies when you’re having fun

The defendants will serve you with Interrogatories, Document Demands and requests for admissions.  All of these have a time within which they must be answered.  Make sure you look up the Rules in your particular state for the response time. Additionally, you will be serving discovery (interrogatories and document demands).

During your review of defendant’s answers to discovery, you must pay close attention to make sure the defendant completely answered your discovery demands.  If you find that their responses don’t fully give you the information you need you need to discuss with your attorney if you need to file a motion for more specific answers or if a letter to your adversary will suffice.

You should get into the habit of keeping track of all dates and deadlines in each particular case so that a deadline is not missed and also to make sure that your adversary answers your requests on time.

When working on very large cases, I got into the habit of keeping discovery binders for each party.  I found that by being organized from the beginning of the case made it easier at the time of trial. It may also be a good idea to keep a different color binder for each of the expert sides.  In my case, I kept a red binder for the plaintiff’s expert witnesses and a blue binder for the defense expert witnesses. When it came to trial time these colors were very easy to spot in the box of documents that I normally carried to court.


[1] http://legalcareers.about.com/od/glossary/g/Discovery.htm

 

[2] The example being used is a plaintiff personal injury case.

[3] This can be helpful in the case of a slip and fall case.  You need to find out who owns the property.

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