Most of us in the business can remember clients who call us to say something like, “We’ve done some pretty serious Googling, so you probably won’t find anything.” We had a prospective client some years ago who said exactly those words, and I wrote them down at the time.
It got to the point that I decided to write a book, The Art of Fact Investigation, so that I could put down in writing — and in detail — why the most serious-minded Google search is never enough.
But I’ve noticed something else over the years about people who decide to do their own fact-finding. Some of them don’t take it seriously enough. That is, it sometimes gets assigned to junior personnel, and it’s not given the weight of being a full-time task.
If you’re a serious litigator, would you prepare for a major cross-examination or closing arguments while keeping an eye on a football game, maybe handling some email at the same time? If you’re a financial advisor, would you look over a prospective $2 million portfolio in these circumstances? If you’re a mediator, would you mediate with the TV on, or in between more important things to do?
Certainly not, yet a lot of people treat deep investigation this way. I blame Google.
Google is a marvelous tool, but so is the hammer. You can’t build a house with just a hammer, but you need a hammer to build a house. You need Google in any investigation, but you need more.
The easiest way to explain why is to consider the difference between what Google can find and what is on the deep web. Not the dark web, where criminals (but also whistleblowers) lurk. The dark web is a small part of the deep web, which is the part of the internet that Google won’t index: Password-protected stuff such as your bank account, but also plenty of free information that still requires a login.
You want to know how much George Jones paid for that house in Jefferson County? It won’t be on Google. It will be on the county’s website. You use Google to get the county’s website, and then you work on that website to see the information. You may need to pay for it, you may need to send someone to the recorder’s office to get the documents, or it may be free. But it’s not on Google.
The same is true of most litigation if you want to see who has sued Jones, professional licenses (if you want to see whether Jones has misbehaved as a doctor), securities filings, and social media.
Serious Googling is start. But if you stop there, you’re really not serious at all about doing a diligent search.
Listen to Philip Segal on The Investigation Game Podcast.
Check our other blog, The Divorce Asset Hunter.