My current favorite interrogatory
“Just what,” none of you have asked, “does a paralegal do?” I have no idea. I know what I do, but “paralegal” is a gloriously underspecified job title. I can make a stab a what a paralegal working in personal injury litigation or in workers compensation does, but even that can vary wildly.
In my case, a distressing percentage of my time is taken up drafting answers to interrogatories. “Interrogatory” is simply lawyer-speak for “question,” in this case in writing with the answers also in writing.
Ask any litigator about interrogatories and he will adopt a pious countenance and talk about how important they are. You might expect, therefore, that they would be carefully crafted literary efforts. In many jurisdictions the number of interrogatories you can ask is limited, so you would expect that they are chosen with particular care, customized to each case so as to maximize their effectiveness.
You would be disappointed in your expectations. In practice, at least in personal injury, the lawyer typically has his secretary slap the correct case caption on a set of boilerplate interrogatories and ship it out the door. And while these might have been carefully crafted at one time, the boilerplate tends to get tweaked over the course of years until it reads like a bad Wikipedia article.
Here is my current favorite. This is a real interrogatory, quoted verbatim. We represent the plaintiff in a traffic accident case:
Please state whether you had any conversation with the Defendant and any other person at the scene of the subject occurrence or thereafter, and if so, state the substance of each such conversation and the name, address, and telephone number of each individual present during the conversation.
This is a lovely mishmash of poor word choice, ambiguous construction, and utter insanity. A conversation with “the Defendant and any other person”? So if the plaintiff had a conversation with the defendant alone, the answer would be ‘No’? They meant “the Defendant or any other person”. This is the smallest of the problems. What does the prepositional phrase “at the scene of the subject occurrence” modify? Does it modify “had any conversation” or “any other person”? If that were the end of the clause, I would take it to modify “any other person”. But then there is “or thereafter”. “Thereafter” refers to time, so it must be coordinated with some other time element. The only possibility is “at the scene of the subject occurrence”. Therefore “at the scene of the subject occurrence or thereafter” is a single modifier. This natural interpretation now is that it modifies “had any conversation”. The question is asking about every single conversation the plaintiff has had since the accident with any person on any topic, demanding the name, address and telephone number of every person the plaintiff has spoken with.
The sensible question the defense lawyer meant to ask is if the plaintiff had any conversations with the defendant or with any eyewitnesses to the accident, whether said conversations were at the scene of the accident or at some later time.
How to answer the actual interrogatory? Object to it on the grounds of being vague and over-broad, then “without waiving this objection” answer the question they meant to ask. *sigh*