Again - I want to reiterate the Copyright information I specified in the
beginning. I maintain the rights to everything I write and if some mutt chooses
to make this into a book, I will most definitely defend my copyright.
When we left off last time, you had a new case and your first "stuff" had
arrived. You have:
Phone toll records for three phones: Joe Blow 919 555-1212; Jane Doe 404
555-1212, and Richard Rowe 305 555-1212 and you have them all responsive to your
subpoena, for their respective billing periods, between 01/01/1998 and
OK, moving on, you have bank records for these people as well - Joe Blow
Checking Account # 11111111111, Savings 2222222222; Jane Doe Checking Account #
121212121212, Savings 2323232323232; and Richard Row Checking Account
444444444444444, Savings 555555555555 all of which are at BB&T Bank. You have the
account statements, instruments and offsets.
You have Transcripts of Depositions from all these people - each one is 100
You have a DBT Choice Point Profile on each person - each is 50 pages long
You have 27 News articles about these people
You have Corporate Records including Articles, Amendments and Annual Reports
on 9 corporations involved in this case
You have copies of the pleadings in your case thus far
You have copies of the Complaints, Answers and Final Orders in 5 prior cases
involving these people - jointly, individually, or in some combination.
Those of you who did your homework have been working thru what you are going
to do with all this "stuff," not to mention all the other "stuff" we will
collect as our case progresses.
Whatever you came up with may be just fine - Lord knows there are always many
approaches to most problems. All I can do is share my way of doing things,
but the underlying concept IS the ONLY rational approach to complex case
However you choose to do it - electronically, hard copy, or some combination
of both, you MUST work toward having complete control over all the "stuff"
that attends a complex investigation. I personally like to do everything
electronically with a hard copy back up.
I don't want to diverge to war stories, but hi-tech is only good when it
works - you simply CANNOT do all we are going to do here without hi-tech help but
the hard copy back up has saved me a lot of grief a time or two and it is
always peace of mind.
I wanted everyone following along to begin thinking about the organization
process, but for this to make sense, and be all encompassing, we need to take a
short step back and introduce the Client and the Case before starting into the
documents associated therewith.
Let's start with the Engagement Letter. I am talking about the first
correspondence that brings you on board.
"Dear Investigator . . . you have been retained to . . . confidential work
product . . . please keep me informed . . . Cordially, Dewey Cheatham and
Or, we could just have an e-mail from a new Client. The first thing we all
do is spend an hour or so on the phone with them going thru all the facts and
issues and making GOOD notes.
Once the initial intake interview is over, we have two new things in our
life, a new Case, and a new Client. That generally REQUIRES a new file folder and
a new file on our computer, but around here it usually means a new
rewriteable DVD, a new file on my hard drive (with lots of sub folders) and some file
boxes commonly referred to as "banker's boxes."
I use "Vaultz" - they are more expensive than cardboard boxes, but they look
like they are bullet proof, and you can lock them up for those times when
everyone leaves their "stuff" in the courtroom. They have the most professional
look of anything I've seen.
For the "Case File" itself, I like "Classification Folders," mostly because
that is what federal agencies use, and I'm a creature of habit, but they are a
handy way to keep six conventional file folders together in one book. Here is
a link for those who don't know what I am talking about - but any brand from
any source is all the same - I am not here to push anyone's products.
If the link doesn't work, "Froogle" search for "Classification Folder." You
don't really need these, but if you use them, here's a tip.
Get clear plastic adhesive label holders - the look like a clear plastic
square envelope about 2 inches with an adhesive back. Put one on the front of
your Case File, Case Folder - whatever.
The reason I like these adhesive clear label holders is because they are
reusable. Classification Folders are expensive and they are reusable - just make
a label, slide it in the adhesive clear window and then discard the label and
strip the folder when you are done.
You will also need some File Pockets. These are also reusable. By "File
Pocket" I am referring to: http://www.smead.com/Director.asp?NodeID=195
You will be needing some of those in assorted sizes - mostly either 1 3/4 or
3 1/2 but a few of the large ones will do. Every big stack of stuff (like a
set of phone tolls or bank records) will need its own file pocket.
So, here we go - let's do the intake of our new case.
Take a label and write, or type it up. It should have the case name, which
we will call "New Case," a Case Number, and the name of your Client -
Confidentiality isn't an issue here because this is in-house, until the point that it
is no longer in-house and at that point, the Client's identity is not secret.
Insert the label in the window on the front of the Classification Folder and
then I put the initial letter/e-mail inside the folder, in the first of the six
sections is labeled "Correspondence."
If the correspondence is a hard copy I got in snail mail, I have it scanning
to .pdf and if it was an e-mail, it is printing while I am getting things set
up - either way, I want a hard copy and electronic copy of everything.
Remember those GOOD initial notes we took during the initial interview? They
go in the section of the Case File folder for "Notes" and an image of them
goes in our electronic case file on disk as well.
On my computer I file by year so I open "Case Files 2005" and look to see if
I have a folder named "DewieCheathamHowe" It is handy to have all your cases
organized by the law firm that you are working for if, like me, you work
almost exclusively for law firms.
I create a Folder there called "New Case" and in that "New Case" folder, I
create a subfolder called "Correspondence," and another for notes.
Remember, my computer file is a mirror image of my hard copy file.
Now, and I do mean RIGHT NOW, TODAY, I write my first e-mail.
Dear Attorney Dewie,
[this is what I cover]
1. Acknowledge receipt of their e-mail/letter
2. Reiterate their instructions VERY EXPLICITLY as I understand them (based
on their correspondence and my notes of my intake interview) including
budgetary and time constraints.
3. Notice them that a Fee Agreement is attached (they may have something
they want me to sign but they are going to sign my FeeAgreement too) - or
explicitly restate our understanding that the work will be performed under the terms
of our existing Fee Agreement dated _______.
4. Address the Retainer Issue
5. I reiterate THEIR (and provide MY) full contact information - phones,
cell, fax, e-mail, po box, physical address for shipping docs, etc.
We should always - ALWAYS - do this, and I bill for it. This way, you cover
your butt and save yourself a world of potential grief down the road. You may
be very smart and honest, they may be very smart and honest, but sooner or
later you/they will get confused about what you were supposed to do, when and
for how much.
This pre-empts the, but I said, "Blah, blah, blah."
I know you guys are all too smart for this, but my old brain is fading and I
have, more than once, forgotten what a given Client wanted me to do, when and
for how much.
I have forgotten my Client's contact information
I have had Clients get confused as to my billable rate
I have had Clients change their mind about pursuing a case and forget that
retainers are nonrefundable
I forget things, they forget things, but mostly all those things are
reconcilable by returning to this one document for review.
I put a copy of the signed Fee Agreement - new or existing - in this
"Correspondence" folder too.
NOTE: It would be tedious to keep saying hardcopy and electronic. Whatever
I do say, keep in mind that it goes in both places identically filed.
I would encourage you to develop a naming convention. I have things like
FeeAgreement, IntroLetter and TAH_Letter (That Ain't Happening), that I use a
lot. It is handy to always call the same letter the same thing so you can get to
it immediately. My TAH Letter is the standard form I use to respond to
demands to produce records. I don't blame attorneys for demanding my case file -
that's their job but it is our job to know what they get and when.
As for filing correspondence, Bill Gates is my friend - he set things up so
my computer automatically tracks the date a letter was saved so I don't need to
make that part of the file name. You will find that I try to take advantage
of the way Gates set things up whenever I can.
Now that we have the case file opened on land and in the magic box, we start
in on this pile of "stuff" and we are going to track and bill for all the time
it takes. On that subject, every first invoice of mine includes time and
billing for the initial intake interview and the time I spent opening my case
file and setting everything up.
In this case, our Client, an attorney, hired us because things "blew up" and
he got a little overwhelmed. In most cases, we don't start out with all this
Let's start with the first thing on the list - and bear with me because I am
going to explain what these docs are for anyone who doesn't know. I am not
going thru this to lose anyone trying to follow along, but IF I DO LEAVE YOU
BEHIND, SAY SO via private e-mail.
A telephone toll record is essentially a copy of the person's long distance
telephone bill. When we subpoena it, we ask for the toll records, "For the
billing period" covering the time we are interested in, as well as any related
phones and subscriber information, with an explicit statement of the expenses we
expect to absorb. That way, I get whatever the phone company knows about the
person, the phone records I know about, and phone records I may not be aware
of - and they know they will get paid.
Be thoughtful about costs - try and allow more than enough but do not commit
to more than your Client has funds on deposit to pay. In one case, the guy
had about a dozen related phones in his "office." He was running a "boiler
room" and the tolls toasted him - they were expensive, but they were worth it.
You should include a statement to the effect that the Agency/Firm will pay
costs and expenses associated with production - please contact us if they are
projected to exceed $XXX.
What do we do with the ones that we have.
First, we either scan them or have them imaged by a vendor. I prefer to scan
them myself as the time isn't relevant - it takes much longer to analyze the
documents than it does to run them thru a scanner so you can easily keep the
scanner running in the background while you work.
First, go thru them to see what you have. Make sure you have all the
records, and there are no obvious sections missing. Then we put them in
appropriately labeled file pockets of an appropriate size. For example, we will have a
separate file pocket with a label that says, Joseph P. Blow Toll Records
919 555-1212 01/01/98 and 01/01/05
Now, once we have .pdf copies, how do we organize them on a computer?
Again, Bill Gates did what Bill Gates did for a reason - whatever his reasons
were - so we'll work with that.
Let's take our first record, the toll record for the first month - and note
that here is where electronic filing is a little different from the hard copy.
ALL the toll records go in one file pocket in date order, but we are going to
be able to identify each separate month on the computer.
Think about file names VERY carefully!
01-01-1998_BlowHomePhone would work - but not very well. Why? For one
reason, the next record in our file list once we have them all entered will be
If we choose our file names to best work with Bill Gates' system, we will be
a LOT happier.
The computer reads and sorts from left to right. If we want all our toll
records to be together, we can start our file name "Tolls." That way, all toll
records will be together.
Next, we could sort by date - but we don't want all our tolls listed by date
as the phone numbers would be mixed up - so lets use the number. We want to
keep all the tolls for a given number together.
Now, PAY ATTENTION, if you don't already know this. To use the computer
filing system to have the records in date order, the year must be first.
Year-Month-Day with leading zeroes.
That does it - all your tolls will be grouped together, with all of a
specific number grouped together and all in date order - but I like to keep my memory
jogged so I follow with a "Short Name" designator.
Now, note that this is not as cumbersome as it seems - you don't have to type
this all out but once. When you save the second record, putting your curser
on the existing record when you start the "save as" process puts the existing
record's file name in the "save as" window. All you do is modify the date by
changing one number before "saving" so the second record reads:
Now, I suggest you go thru and try this yourself. It's absolutely simple
once you get the hang of it, but if you aren't going to invest the time to get
the hang of it, you are wasting your time.
For reasons I will address later, always use a short name for your subject as
being LastNameFirstInitial if possible, but make sure they are all unique.
If you can adequately name all the files, and you have kept up thus far,
congratulations - we are about to GET STARTED.
LOL-surely you didn't think all we were going to do was some simple filing???
We are going to work all the way thru handling a Complex Case.
Until Next Time
Bill E. Branscum, Investigator
PO Box 10728
Naples, FL 34101
(239) 304-1640 Fax
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