By Thomas D. Penfield

Many newly emerging attorneys want to know how they can enjoy a successful law practice. The most basic and important thing you can do is to keep your client informed.  Surprisingly, an ABA E-Report (September 8, 2006) revealed that clients ranging from large organizations to individual clients rate lawyer-client communication as the most frequent source of dissatisfaction and more important than the outcome.  The survey results, repeated in substantial research point to: Failure to keep client adequately informed (21%); Lack of client focus: failure to listen, non-responsiveness, arrogance (15%); Making decisions without client authorization or awareness (10%); Failure to give clear, direct advice (7%). (Clark D. Cunningham, What Do Clients Want from Their Lawyers, 2013 J. Disp. Resol. (2013) Available here.)

Another sure way to success is to keep your client’s costs down. First, let’s define the problem. Formal discovery under the Discovery Act requires ongoing litigation and is expensive, time consuming, and subject to objection and limitation by your opposing counsel.

There are a number of ways to reduce the costs of discovery. For brevity, I remind you of a (nearly) free and often overlooked method:  The California Public Records Act (CPRA) Government Code §§ 6250-6276.48., and its federal, near equivalent, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. § 552. Both laws allow for full or partial disclosure of information and documents controlled by the respective governmental entities.

Part of the solution is to use other investigative tools first, especially if some of the information sought lies in the hands of the State of California or the U.S. government. CPRA and FOIA are cheap (e.g. reimbursing photocopying), and potentially very fast. CPRA access is immediate as copy requests are due in 10 days. Federal agencies respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days and are typically targeted for one month, but depending upon its complexity (“unusual circumstances”), the agency may request additional time. The first two hours of its research are free and there is also a procedure to request an expedited process.

You can find a free sample CPRA request (plus much more) here or here.

Federal agencies have their own requirements for your request. Here is a link so you can check with the target agency.

Click here for a sample FOIA request, courtesy of Jason C. Evans, Esq. of CaseyGerry.

There are some exceptions, restrictions and limitations, etc. on documents that are to be made available, but that’s why your client needs you.

To find out more about CPRA and FOIA, check out these sites:

CPRA

Primers:
//firstamendmentcoalition.org/public-records-2/cpra-primer/
//www.thefirstamendment.org
//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Public_Records_Act

FOIA

//firstamendmentcoalition.org/public-records-2/foia-your-right-to-federal-records-2011/

The National Freedom of Information Coalition:
//www.nfoic.org/california-foia-laws
//www.foia.gov/faq.html

FOIA basics from George Washington University:
//www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/foia/guide.html

Happy Hunting!

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