A big part of legal representation is identifying and getting key documents from your client. This can sometimes be a bit like pulling teeth, but its critical that you get necessary documents. Here are some helpful guidelines for getting all the documents that you need from your client.
Unlike a document request from the opposing side during discovery, getting documents from your own client is much more fluid and can happen throughout the representation. These requests can be based on either your own need for information to best represent your client, or from the need to comply with discovery or other disclosure requests from an opposing party.
In the age of electronic information, “documents” may well include e-mail, accounting, or bank records, or other data capable of electronic storage—requiring you to consider potential privacy issues along with the practical issues of extracting, transmitting, and storing the information.
Although the need for documents is situational, here are some general guidelines for getting what you need from your clients:
- Request documents from your client asap. Early examination of documents will aid in properly assessing your client’s legal rights and, in litigation matters, will help avoid the possibility of having to first examine your client’s documents when an opposing counsel submits a discovery demand. You may want to request that the client bring relevant documents to the initial consultation.
- Tailor your document request to the case. The type of documents you’ll request from a client depends on the type of case at hand. For example, if it’s a family law matter, documents related to marital property and income such as titles, deeds, bank account statements, and pay stubs will be relevant. If you’re representing someone in a real estate transaction, the deed, mortgage statement, and closing documents concerning the property would be relevant.
- Get all documents you’ll need to initiate or continue a client’s case. Some documents are a necessary precursor to initiating or continuing a client’s case. For example, in a landlord-tenant case in which you represent a landlord seeking to evict his or her tenant, you shouldn’t initiate an unlawful detainer action without first carefully reviewing the rental agreement involved and securing the original of that agreement.
- Make your client your partner in responding to discovery requests. Traditional litigation often poses the challenge of complying with extensive requests for documents through formal discovery or the operation of mandatory disclosure statutes. See generally CCP §§2016.010–2036.050; Fam C §§2100–2113. Many of these requests can be made less burdensome through the cooperation of your client.
CEB has a new book to help you with all your client communications, from the initial client intake through obtaining your fees — California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms. Chapter 6 of this book is dedicated to helping you with getting documents from your client, including sample letters to send to your client requesting documents. Here’s an excellent video introduction to the book by one of its authors, Micha Liberty.
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