Estimated reading time: 6 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
If you’ve passed The Bar, legal research is something you know well. It’s the investigative data that lacks in many firms. 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
- Finding this information
- Using a data tool to build better cases and handle more clients
The 4 types of investigative data
In some cases, finding the right person for your case is tough. Finding out where a person-of-interest 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. There are a number of reasons to find witnesses for a case;
- A probate case which involves finding an estranged son
- Obscure witnesses, not directly connected to the client (e.g. Uber drivers)
- Debt collections
2. Due diligence
No lawyer likes surprises, at least not when it comes to a case. Many lawyers have detailed sessions with clients and try to research anything that possibly relates to the case. All of this in order to minimize the potential for an unknown bit of information coming out at an inopportune time.
Example one: A client tells you their record is clean. After a quick 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.
Example two: Monitoring either clients or key individuals in case.
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.
3. Assets (business and personal)
Another cliche from the film industry is one that actually happens in reality. Hidden assets, either intentional or unintentional, are important in:
- Mergers & Acquisitions
- Divorces and Custody
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.
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 one of the most powerful in many legal cases. There are a range of uses, including:
- Alibi proof: Putting your location onto social media, for the world to see, is commonplace for many. Proving a client wasn’t where a crime was alleged or presenting evidence that an individual could have been there are both key pieces of data in a case.
- 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.
- 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 from the date in question.
How law firms find information
There are 3 broad ways law firms use in order to start digging up investigative data.
Going the DIY route is the most time consuming and limits the search to the most common areas. That means you, or your team, are going to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter yourselves. Typing 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 organizations, law enforcement and legal experts are possibly the biggest clients for private investigators. PIs are a good way to find information, but they are 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.
Use a data tool
Investigative 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 a tool, like Tracers, you simply choose your search, enter a name and in a matter of seconds see;
- Location data, including where a person is, where they were and how to contact them.
- Social media profiles to find a person-of-interest’s (or your client’s) profiles across dozens of social media platforms.
- Background information including past arrests and choose to receive up-to-the-minute alerts to see when one of your clients (or others) come across legal channels.
Using data tools = 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. Using a software tool allows for all of these searches to be completed in seconds. All of the information is right in front of you without scrolling through the wrong people or hiring a PI to find it.
An investigative data tool:
- Saves time: A tool streamlines how you build cases by saving time spent on manually searching the web for information regarding your client and the case.
- Lower cost: Software lowers the expense per case by quickly gathering needed information without the cost of labor or outsourced investigations to manually find information.
- No surprises: Reduces the number of unwanted surprises during the litigation process.
- More clients: These benefits allow firms to increase the number of clients and/or billable hours while increasing the likelihood of winning cases.
Most of all, Tracers allows you to search for those key pieces of data and build better cases. Not in the sense of the last-minute pitch to win over the jury in a movie. But real-world evidence found during a detailed search of all case-related data. All quickly gathered in order to build better cases and increase the number of clients for your firm.