A Perspective on Responding to Requests for Production

By: Hank Shechter, CFE

The focus of my work is to provide litigation support services mostly in divorce matters. One important function in providing these services is to obtain and provide documents from the parties to properly analyze the financial condition and lifestyle of the divorcing couple. I interact with the parties’ attorneys who regularly prepare document requests, also called requests for production (RFPs), and motions to compel amongst other pleadings to identify assets, liabilities, earnings power, childcare needs and spending habits of the couple. It is an interesting exercise if you like piecing puzzles together.

Some of the language in these pleadings can bring fear to less experienced practitioners, but I am getting used to it. That being said, I do need to take some aspirin and antacids from time to time. Maybe it is a Pavlovian response, but when I hear that I have to assist counsel in preparing a response to an RFP, I check my supply of these essential medicines. Let me explain why.

Picture me sitting in my office, minding my business, working on one of my cases and thinking in my head, “Things are going pretty much as planned, my projects are on schedule and it’s going to be a good day.” Then I receive an email with the subject, “Documents”. Having had experience with these “Documents emails, I think to myself, “Do I open this email immediately or should I wait until after lunch? Which would be less painful?” I decide to not spoil my appetite, and wait until after lunch.

Regardless of whether I choose to wait until after lunch or dinner, or some other mark, I open the email within a reasonable amount of time…I wouldn’t want to make anyone wait for a response to an email that they assume I received and processed within five minutes of it landing in my empty Inbox. As I thought, it is from my client’s attorney with an attached PDF received from opposing party’s counsel.

It’s time to open the PDF attachment. First, I take note of the size of the PDF file: 5 MB! Really? At this point, the sweat starts forming on my upper lip and I begin pondering how this RFP can be 43 pages.

Maybe I should have opened this before lunch. As I begin to digest the RFP, I realize we are being asked to gather five years of whatever documents they are requesting. The food I ate for lunch begins to come alive in my stomach.  Now, I reach into my desk drawer and grab the TUMS. “Should I take one or two? This RFP looks like a two-TUM job.”

Next, I peruse the RFP to get more of a flavor of the documents being requested. By the time I get to item 68, I reach into my desk drawer again and grab for the bottle of TUMS. I also do a quick Google search:

How many TUMS can I take at one time?

Results:

Don’t take too many.”

“I really don’t think it can hurt you…calcium is good for your bones.”

“If you overdose seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help Line.”

Since I can’t figure out the truth, I take two more anyway, savoring the chalky flavor of some unidentified fruit.

I return to the PDF and scroll back to the top of page one, and start reading each item in the request. After about the fourth item, I realize that the sender never looked at the request. He or she pulled it from some dark template on his or her computer server, never bothered to customize it to their particular case, and just sent it out to start the response clock ticking.

You may ask, what item #4 was requesting that caused me to pause and reflect? What does item #4 say?

“Provide proof of any and all transfers of funds and/or property”

I do a double take. I immediately take off my glasses to make sure I have my reading glasses on and not my driving glasses. I may call in a colleague or two to read this item to get a second opinion as to whether I’m crazy or not. I understand “transfer of property,” but “all transfers of funds”? Really? FUNDS? What does this mean?

In layman’s terms, the transfer of funds can be by almost any means. When I go to CVS and buy my next bottle of TUMS, I will transfer funds from my account to CVS. So, opposing counsel wants our client to provide proof of any and all transfers. I guess receipts for everything our client bought for the last five years, regardless of size or amount, will suffice? I’ll ask my client for those immediately.

I decide to look at the next item. Hey, item #5 looks okay, but…wait…are they really requesting the adding machine tapes, too?

“Handwritten ledgers and adding machine tapes?”

Wondering again, in what century was this RFP written? Ever hear of Quick Books? Quicken, Peachtree, etc.? So, now just for kicks and giggles I look at item #6.

“Financial Schedules and Reports Existing, Destroyed,  Shredded or Believed to have been Shredded”.

That’s it, TUMS be cursed. Where is the bottle of whiskey? Destroyed? Shredded? When I took this job, dumpster diving was not in the job description.

So what’s the point here?

When requesting documents:

  1. Think about your case and what is really needed to accomplish your goals.
  2. Pick the appropriate template from your cache (arsenal) of templates.
  3.  Read what items you are requesting in your RFP.
  4. Make corrections to any previously used versions so it is applicable to the current matter.
    • Don’t forget to check the dates.
    • Don’t forget to consider dollar amounts as appropriate in the circumstances
    • Don’t forget to take out names, addresses, etc. from any previous case
  5. Remember, the opposing side can ask for documents, too.

The first thing I try to do in these situations is not to panic. Then I usually discuss the RFP with our client’s counsel to see if we can get clarification on some of the requests. With counsel’s permission, I may reach out to the opposing expert to see if the request can be narrowed down or at least better defined. If there is no movement, then I explain to our client how long the process of gathering the requested documents may take. TUMS aren’t so bad tasting, really.