From Finding to Keeping Facts: An Investigator’s Journey into Legal Tech

Investigators, like lawyers, have excellent memories. We remember key bits of information and we remember the entire structure of the case. But unless you’re Detective Carrie Wells, memory is only going to get you so far.

As a partner in a large investigations firm, I routinely relied on both memory and sophisticated software to complete tasks for large cases that involved long lists of people, places, research, and required large amounts of billed time.

An Example, All Too Common

One particularly large case comes to mind.

“Didn’t we have names of consultants who were there at the time?” I asked the associate in my office. “I remember seeing a bunch more names than this.” We were finalizing a memo of witnesses for our client to possibly depose. It was a massive case with a massive amount of research and billed time involved. We were on deadline, at budget, and had no time to redo work. These consultants, however, could be crucial witnesses, and I knew we had seen this information somewhere previously. The associate ran off and I tried not to think about the inevitable: there would be no “list of consultants” found in her keyword search. I turned to the other associate in my office waiting to brief me on a separate case.

Indeed the associate returned—almost three hours later—with a mere two consultants to add to the list. I had that feeling of terror, that we might miss something important for the client, and set out to try to recreate the longer list I swore I’d seen months earlier.

The anxiety and wasted time was excruciating. Late nights. Unbillable time. Blown budgets and stressed-out associates. All in the name of excellent work product.

Searching for information like that was routine. Even with very sophisticated software at our disposal to help us—akin to legal research databases—we ended up dumping our findings into Word documents and paper files. Not just investigators, but litigators, too. They were bogged down reviewing dozens of pages of relevant material while keeping notes in Word or physical notebooks to use later for legal briefs. Whether a solo practice or an AmLaw 100 firm, it didn’t matter. The process was the same.

While there are software products available, and they promise to do everything automatically, that is not realistic. Nothing about human nature, or the law, is that computable.

Still, there had to be a better way.

Facts + Context = Value

Eventually, my background in programming and inner geek got the best of me. I left private investigation to solve this problem with a few other dedicated folks who also felt the pain of managing enormous quantities of complex data.

Our measure of success required our software to do three things:

  • Fit into our customers’ existing work processes
  • Show immediate value
  • Tie benefits to real cash on the bottom line

We spent almost two years beta-testing with litigators and re-configuring the product from their feedback. Finally, our product was ready for a general audience. We named it FactBox.

FactBox is designed narrowly to simplify the organization of facts, notes, and ideas in a case—solo or in a team—and then instantly generate work product from those facts. It is securely accessible by our customers anywhere, on any device with an Internet connection.

Security Obsessed

Yes, I said securely accessible. Obsessing about security came naturally to us. We’re former corporate investigators, so security is ingrained into our logic. We have two security audit firms that conduct both “white hat” and “black hat” penetration tests of FactBox. You never know who wants into your systems, so the best offense is a strong defense. These audits include authenticated and non-authenticated vulnerability scans. The penetration tests go after our external and internal information systems.

In addition, FactBox data is encrypted both in transit and at rest. The data, too, resides on redundant servers in facilities that require two-factor access with control cards, biometric readers, and armed guards.

In other words, we obsess about security from every angle.

The Prevailing Mantra Changes

As a private investigator, I was required by law to keep everything I did, and for whom I did it, confidential. The prevailing mantra was, “Shhh.” Leaving the private investigation field to found a startup has meant learning to be vocal, and publicly talk about FactBox. It is one of the hardest transitions.

Transitioning from spending my days ensuring my team found all the facts to helping others ensure all of those facts are close at hand, however, is gratifying.

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