It used to be that I gave no real thought to when, in the course of a lawsuit, I would serve contention interrogatories. Sometimes, I would serve them concurrently with my client’s answer to a complaint, just to get the discovery ball rolling. But a couple of years ago a litigator whom I greatly respect gave me a tip I’ve found to be valuable, and which I’ll pass on here. In a nutshell, the idea is to hold off propounding contention interrogatories, or requests for admission with corresponding interrogatories, until after completing the opposing party’s deposition. This seems so obvious to me now that it’s hard to believe I didn’t intuitively follow the practice from the beginning.
Contention interrogatories provide an excellent roadmap to the proponents case. If I represent a plaintiff, my contention interrogatories will ask my opponent if and how they contend I will not be able to prove any essential element of my client’s case. They may also ask what evidence my opponent has to meet his/her/its burden of proving essential elements of an affirmative defense. If I represent a defendant, the interrogatories ask what facts and evidence my opponent has to prove his/her/its case (or to counter my client’s affirmative defenses). From viewing these interrogatories, my opponent should be able to get a pretty good idea where the contest(s) will be in the lawsuit.
Assuming my opponent can walk and chew gum, he or she is not going to simply tender the interrogatories to his/her client, transcribe and serve the responses. Either the attorney is going to work with his/her client to jointly draft responses, or he/she is simply going to write the responses and have the client sign a verification. Either way, the interrogatories and responses are probably the best tool available for preparing his/her client when the time comes for deposition.
This is not to say that I do not serve any discovery before the deposition. In fact, I think it’s important to serve a pretty comprehensive set of requests for production right at the outset. Ideally, I’d like to have most or all of the relevant documents in-hand and reviewed prior to the deposition. This is not always possible, but it’s a worthy goal. I also see no problem serving discovery which asks the opposing party to identify all witnesses he/she/it believes will have knowledge of relevant facts (note that I do not limit the query to persons with knowledge of facts the opposing party “may use to support its claims or defenses” a la FRCP 26(a)(1)(A)(i)–I want to cast a broader net). Unlike contention interrogatories, this discovery provides no roadmap whatsoever as to my client’s strategy in the case.
Anyway, I hope this finds readers thinking “hey, that’s a pretty good idea.”