Communicating Your Results
The end of the interview does not mark the end of the interview task. The information gleaned in the interview must be communicated to the supervising lawyer and to the client. An oral report about the interview is an effective method of passing along information, but it does not create a record in the file. To properly document the results of the interview requires an interview memorandum. The interview memorandum should have at least three parts: a description of the interview assignment, a description of the results of the interview, and suggestions for follow-up.
Description of the Interview Assignment
Always repeat the interview assignment at the beginning of the interview memorandum. When you begin working on multiple legal matters over several months and years, you will appreciate the need for a slight memory jog about why the information from this witness was important. This information also serves as a form of communication with the client; if the memorandum is sent to the client, the description of the assignment operates as an explanation of why the interview was necessary. Finally, including a description of the assignment helps direct your summary to address the important facts first.
Immediately after the description of the interview assignment comes the contact information for the witness. If it is necessary to locate the witness in the future, a quick look at the interview memorandum will provide the required information. Of course, the same information should be elsewhere in the file as well.
Description of the Interview Results
The results of the interview must be accurately reported. The extent of the reporting requires the exercise of judgment, but when in doubt you should err on the side of including more information. To be useful, the information must be properly organized. Your description of the interview assignment is a good starting point for organizing this portion of the memorandum.
Always begin your memorandum with a summary of the information initially sought. If more than one topic or issue was discussed, your memorandum should discuss each one separately.
After addressing these important facts, you may address any additional facts that came to light. It is not uncommon for witness interviews to reveal facts that were previously unknown. Part of your job is to recognize the significance of those facts and call them to the attention of the supervising lawyer. If the interview produced new documents, attach them to your memorandum or describe where they are filed.
Include your impressions about the witness. All witnesses are different. Some witnesses are tentative; others are too confident. How the witness acted is almost as important as what the witness said in evaluating the reliability of the information. Your observations can be an important factor in how a lawyer treats the information received from a witness.
Suggestions for follow-up should be a part of your response to every assignment. There is always more to do. In the typical law office, assignments go to people willing to do them. If you express an interest in continuing to work on a client matter, you are at the top of the list for the next assignment. Even if your suggestions are not followed, the explanation about why they were not followed is an excellent learning opportunity.
Suggestions for Follow-up
The end of a witness interview should never be the end of the inquiry into the facts. There are always more questions and other things to do. As the interviewer, you should have some idea about what the next step should be. Make that suggestion — interview another witness, request additional documents, or perform legal research — to demonstrate that you are interested, concerned, and committed to using your legal skills for the benefit of the client.