“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Sun Tzu
We have spent a substantial period of time in this column discussing the importance of understanding your own client, the law and relevant Court procedure. What we have not focused on, however, is the need to understand your adversary. Ignoring your adversary, or underestimating him or her, can have drastic consequences for the fate of your case.
By adversary, I do not mean opposing counsel; I mean the opposing party. Whether you are plaintiff or defendant, it is only the foolish lawyer who ignores who is on the other side of the case. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to learn as much as possible about your adversary without spending a lot of your client’s money on a trained investigator. Here are a few suggestions.
- Google Search
How about starting with a Google search. While this may seem overly simplistic, it is often the easiest way to begin your analysis. Perhaps the opposing party has his or her own webpage. Perhaps they have been quoted or featured in an article in a newspaper or magazine. Sometimes, through a carefully calibrated Google search, you can learn a person’s entire history – where they went to school, where they graduated college and where they worked. Their political opinions are often featured as are there Federal campaign contributions.
After exhausting textual information I often do an image search. I want to see what they look like. Are they young or old? What race are they? What do they like to do? Are there pictures of our adversary posing next to a new Ferrari? This could be useful, particularly if you represent the plaintiff in a case involving a substantial damage claim.
- The Public Records
I like to do exhaustive searches in the public records. I want to know where the opposing party lives. Does he or she live in a cheap apartment in a bad neighborhood or do they live in a mansion on the beach This may help me gauge whether the opposing party has enough resources to withstand the litigation assault which is likely coming. Litigation is the sport of kings and it is likely that someone who lives hand to mouth will crumble before your average industry magnate.
Criminal records are often useful. Is your adversary a convicted felon? Have they done time in prison? Wouldn’t you want to know that before you take her deposition? What about drug convictions? Will you ask him, at the start of the deposition, whether they are taking any medication?
Does your adversary own a vehicle? Is it a beat up old jalopy or a new Mercedes? Is it owned or leased?
How about your opponent’s interest in corporations. Does your adversary appear in the public records as an officer or director of a business ? This is important to know because, when you start your deposition, you may want to ask what businesses your adversary is affiliated with. This will give you an opportunity to see if your adversary will lie. Many people do. They tend to underplay their involvement in different businesses. It can be fun to mark as an exhibit a copy of the public records showing how many corporations they are involved with. Videotape this and watch your opponent squirm. If your opponent will lie about something as basic as what corporations they are involved with imagine what else he or she may be lying about.
- Linked In
LinkedIn is great for determining a person’s past employment and future stated goals. Most people post their life story on LinkedIn without giving it serious thought as to whether that information may be subject to review and analysis by an opposing lawyer. It is great fodder to obtain a work history from LinkedIn.
I love Facebook. Facebook provides a window into someone else’s life that you cannot get anywhere else unless you actually know them personally. It is great for finding out where someone lives and who their friends are. When your partners at the law firm complain that you are spending too much time during the course of the day on Facebook tell them, with a straight face, that you are doing research !
Just like it is important to understand your case and the law, it is also important to understand your adversary. Understanding your adversary could help you serve process, formulate discovery requests and determine whether you will be able to collect on your judgment. And it all may be there, right in front of you, on the internet.