Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
We’ve all seen the movies with “legal” themes.
There are so many plots where the situation seems dire, but at the very last minute, there’s an epiphany that reveals the truth. This key piece of evidence is (almost always) as easily overlooked as it is crucial to proving innocence. Sure, these scenes are overdone and unrealistic, to put it lightly.
However, there is one thing that points to reality — data can make or break a case. In the real world, a law firm typically does two categories of research to find the necessary data in a case:
- Legal Research
- Investigative Research (or “fact-finding”)
If you’ve passed the Bar, legal research is something you know well. And while you likely are also familiar with fact-finding during discovery, many law firms don’t take full advantage of all the many others ways to gather and use investigative data. And much like the movies, it’s the investigative data that tells the best story in cases. In this article, we discuss:
- 4 types of investigative data
- How to conduct a data investigation to find this information
- Why a data tool can help you build better cases and handle more clients
The 4 types of investigative data
In some cases, trying to locate someone for your case is tough. Finding out where a person-of-interest or witness is at the moment is hard enough, but sometimes, you need a history of where they’ve been in between key dates —making the process even more difficult. Luckily, investigative data may provide what you need. Following an Investigative data process can help you skip trace hard-to-find witnesses for situations like::
- An estate planning and probate case that involves finding an estranged son
- A case that involves obscure witnesses who not directly connected to the client (e.g. Uber drivers)
- Client collections
2. Due diligence
No lawyer likes surprises, at least not when it comes to a case. Many lawyers have detailed sessions with clients to try uncover anything that possibly relates to the case in order to minimize the potential for an unknown bit of information coming out at an inopportune time. Unfortunately, you might not get everything from the client, which is why you should conduct a data investigation for the most thorough due diligence possible. Here are two examples of when investigative data searches can help with due diligence:
- A client tells you their record is clean. After a quick criminal history search, you find out the individual has a DWI from 10 years ago.“I thought those dropped off after 7 years?!”, they say. Understanding the complete and accurate picture of your client is key to building an effective case.
- Monitoring either clients or key individuals in case with real-time incarceration data. If your client is in a custody case, and either they or the other parent is arrested, knowing this as soon as possible is incredibly important. For instance, if the parent you’re not representing is arrested and facing charges for issues unrelated to your case.
To learn more about how to use investigative data for due diligence, check out our article on “Three Tips for Using Public Records for Legal Due Diligence.”
3. Assets (business and personal)
Hidden assets, either intentional or unintentional, are important to uncover for legal cases. Maybe your client’s spouse has a hidden hunting cabin, or a boat bought with company money. Perhaps there are unclaimed settlements of some kind. Or maybe there is a warehouse that’s been left off the books of a company, by mistake. Regardless of what the asset is, knowing about them ensures cleaner contracts, divorces, and business deals. and you can uncover them with an asset search. While this kind of asset investigation data has many uses, it’s particularly important for:
- Due diligence for mergers & acquisitions
- Divorce,custody, and other family law matters
4. Digital Footprint
Nearly everyone on the planet has a digital footprint. A social media search search can provide, in one seamless report, all active and inactive profiles along with recent posts for each. It’s one of the new categories of investigative data, and is also one of the most powerful in many legal cases. There many ways to use social media data in your law firm, including:
- Alibi proof: Putting your location onto social media, for the world to see, is common for many. Social media data can help prove a client wasn’t where a crime was alleged or serve as evidence that an individual could have been there.se.
- Character information: Even more unreasonable than telling everyone where you are is conducting illegal activity on camera. But this is something else happening frequently on common social platforms, and you can use this social activity to help establish character
- Personal injury lawsuit: Let’s say someone is suing your client for an “on-the-job” injury, but their Instagram is full of “Stories” with roller coaster rides at an amusement park. Or, your client was injured bungee-jumping, and likewise has the video on social media from the date in question. When you’re looking for information about an injury, social media may be able to help.
Data investigation process for law firms
There are 3 different ways law firms can start digging up investigative data.
Going the DIY route is the most time-consuming data investigation process and limits the search to the most common areas. If you’re looking for social media data, that means you, or your team, are going to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter yourselvesTyping in the name, finding the right person scrolling through the feeds. And that’s just one of the four types of data we’ve covered!
Most lawyers skip the digital footprint or do a minimal search. For the rest, they may hire it out, which brings us to the next point.
Hire a private investigator
Large corporations, law enforcement, and attorneys are possibly the biggest clients for private investigators. Hiring a PIs is a good option for finding investigative data, but it is an expensive option. There are times when hiring a PI to find and gather intel on certain issues makes sense, however most investigators use software data tools to gather their information — which you can also use on your own.
Use an investigative data tool
Investigation software solutions are cost-effective and efficient tools helping law offices (and others) find nearly all of the information we’ve mentioned in our examples. With an investigative database tool like Tracers, you simply choose your search, enter a name, and in a matter of seconds you can get:
- Location and contact data, including where a person currently is, their address history, and their phone numbers and email addresses..
- Background information including past arrests, as well as the option to and choose to receive up-to-the-minute alerts to see when one of your clients (or others) come across legal channels.
- Comprehensive asset data about an individual including property records, vehicle records, and even aircraft and vessel records, as well as complete business records.
- Social media data about a person-of-interest’s (or your client’s) activity pulled from dozens of social media platforms.
Using data tools for data investigation = more cases
Lawyers find witnesses, perform due diligence on clients/cases, find assets and (increasingly) scour social media —all in order to build better cases. An investigative software tool allows you to complete any of these searches in seconds and provides all the information in easy-to-ready reports, so you can avoid scrolling through the countless profiles or hiring a PI to find it.
An investigative data tool:
- Saves you time: Investigative research software streamlines how you build cases by cutting down the time spent on manually searching the web or public records for information regarding your client and the case.
- Lower cost: Investigative data tools lowers the expense per case by allowing you to quickly gather needed information without the cost of labor or outsourced investigations to manually find information.
- No surprises: Using software for your data investigation reduces the number of unwanted surprises during the litigation process.
- More clients: All of these benefits of using investigative data work together to allow firms to increase the number of clients and/or billable hours while also increasing the likelihood of winning cases.
Tracers allows you to search for the key pieces of data you need for your data investigation process and build better cases —not in the sense of the last-minute pitch to win over the jury in a movie, but with the help of real-world evidence found during a detailed search of all case-related data. With the best software for gathering investigative data, you can quickly and efficiently complete a thorough data investigation for your case to increase your chances of winning and handle more clients overall. Get started with Tracers investigative research software today.