You’ve identified someone as a potential fact witness in a dispute that involves or may involve your client. You want to find out what subjects the witness knows about. You don’t yet need to depose the witness, present the witness for deposition, or attend the other side’s deposition of the witness; if you did, you'd probably want to do a lot more than simply conduct an interview. But for now, how do you go about getting the background info you may need to use later on?
Today Blawgletter starts with tips on pre-interview work. We'll get to the interview itself on Thursday.
Setting up the interview
- Request and arrange interviews of your client’s current employees through in-house counsel.
- If you don’t represent the witness or the witness’s employer – because, for example, the witness no longer works for your client – try to have someone the witness trusts (possibly a former co-worker) introduce you to the witness and encourage the witness to talk or meet with you.
- Make a personal connection with the witness by calling instead of sending email or texts, but choose an appropriate time to call (e.g., during work hours for probably friendly witnesses and outside of work hours for likely neutral and possibly hostile ones).
- Unless you have reason to worry that the witness will not talk with you again – in which case you should get as much info as you can on the initial call – give him or her an estimate of how long the interview will last.
- If the witness agrees to meet in person, choose a place that offers convenience and privacy for the witness; often a law office near where the witness works will do.
- Avoid interviews in the witness’s workplace, which will present distractions.
- Although ethical rules in most places allow clients to make reasonable payments to witnesses for their time and expenses, any compensation tends to undercut a witness’s credibility and should not happen routinely.
Preparing for the interview
- Collect basic info on the witness from a Google search and from social media if you can do so without alerting the witness.
- Search PACER and WestlawNext for info on the witness’s involvement in legal disputes, whether as party, fact witness, expert witness, or in some other way.
- Get a document chron of key case documents plus any interesting documents that mention the witness; keep it to less than a redweld-full, as you likely won't have time to use more than a few of them.
- Prepare a list, two pages or shorter, of topics and issues that you want to ask the witness about.
- Dress appropriately but in any event better than you expect the witness will.
You've now set up the interview and gotten ready for it. We'll talk about the main event and your follow-up on Thursday.