The Importance of Completeness
In every case, there is a “discovery process” where parties exchange information and begin to weed out the issues of a case. Many attorneys make the mistake, however, of assuming that just because materials (be they interrogatories (a fancy word for “questions” in writing), requests to produce documents, requests to admit facts, amongst others) have been sent to the opposing counsel, that the issue of discovery is complete. This, however, is most certainly not the case, and it can often lead to tensions between the attorney and the client.
Courts take the rules governing discovery very seriously, and one of the rules most commonly argued over is the rule of completeness. When you complete discovery materials, your attorney will almost always require you to sign a statement known as an “affidavit of completeness” that states that the answers you gave were true and complete. For example, the Illinois Supreme Court even requires such be signed by affidavit (See Il. Sup. Ct. R. 214).
The problem with this, however, is that in the law, as is often true in life, open-ended questions often lead to vague answers. Courts often conclude, when confronted with such vague and ambiguous answers, that the answer should be interpreted as “yes,” even if that was not your true intent. This often comes up in the context of the often-mentioned Requests to Admit Facts. Many of these proposed facts set forth broad statements that you may not have enough personal knowledge or information to answer. Following in line with this rule, however, simply stating that you cannot answer the question is the same as admitting that the statement is true, strange as it may seem. This is an easy mistake to make, but it is an incredibly difficult mistake to fix. Even if an attorney catches such a mistake in time, he will most likely then be forced to scramble at the last minute to contact the client, clarify the response, and fill out the neccessary documents to correct such an error.
An open line of communication between attorney and client is critically important — when clients don’t understand the complex language many attorneys use in their discovery requests, the attorney needs to be available to explain the questions, and likewise, when an attorney needs to make corrections and deal with situations as they arise, the client needs to be available as well. The consequences of a breakdown in the communication process are dire, and unfortunately they are quite common. This is why it is important to seek attorneys who can communicate effectively with their clients. Likewise, it is important for the clients to make the effort to communicate and tell the whole story to their lawyers.
You can contact us here 24/7/365 (and we really mean that as we will answer our phone) if you have any questions and to learn how we may be able to help you ensure your case is handled in a “complete” fashion – in particular, you will find that we listen, take your phone calls and e-mails (and even text messages!). We would be honored to help you with your matters – large or small.