Inside Counsel: Three keys to managing an internal investigation

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Inside Counsel: Three keys to managing an internal investigation

Originally Published in Inside Counsel | August 20, 2014 | By Paul Mandell

The key to an effective internal investigation lies in the preparation that happens before the investigation begins

Performing an internal investigation is among the most challenging and complex exercises faced by the general counsel and his or her team. While each investigation is different, there are several best practices that can both facilitate an easier process and deliver optimal results. In the event that you are planning to launch a new investigation in the near future, set forth below are a few general suggestions to get you off on the right foot.

1. Assemble the right team

An internal investigation typically involves a heavy workload that requires multiple levels of expertise. As a result, it is critical to bring together a strong team with the right component parts. Start by taking into account each element of the anticipated investigation and who will be most useful in tackling it. Existing internal knowledge and capabilities can be invaluable, but be careful not to limit yourself to your company’s resources. Rather, be sure to explore potentially useful external partners. Not only can outside resources add necessary expertise, but they can inject an independent perspective that can be useful either for getting to the root of an issue, demonstrating genuine interest in addressing a problem, or both.

2. Leverage an efficient interview strategy

Employee input plays a pivotal role in most internal investigations, so preparing to interview should be at the top of your priority list. Develop a comprehensive set of questions to be asked at each interview. Keep the questions open-ended, similar to those used in a direct examination, leaving plenty of room for elaboration. The answers to these structured questions can then be used for comparative analyses, providing a framework by which to assess the story from multiple angles. Furthermore, it goes without saying that it can be extremely helpful to have a trusted colleague present to take notes during the interviews, as well as to listen for valuable cues for further exploration.

3. Document everything

One additional critical component of a successful internal investigation that is obvious but occasionally neglected is the need to document everything. As the investigation progresses, it will inevitably become increasingly difficult for you to recall precisely who said what and when. The meticulous and thorough documentation of findings keeps minimizes chaos and can accelerate the process of analyzing the information that you collect. Moreover, comprehensive documentation can minimize the need for subsequent full investigations, helping limit any follow-up to targeted requests for clarification.

The key to an effective internal investigation lies in the preparation that happens before the investigation begins. From putting the right team in place to developing a broad strategy to putting in plan a structure for recording your findings, the investigation will go much more smoothly with the necessary advance work. By following these practices, you will ensure the clearest possible picture of the situation and help your company move more quickly toward resolution of the issue.