Getting Started on Factual
Rule 13 of the
Texas Rules of Civil Procedure dictate an attorney or
party's signature "constitutes a
certificate by them that they have read the pleading, motion, or
other paper". It further dictates that to the best of the
attorney or party's knowledge, information, and belief "formed
after reasonable inquiry" the instrument bearing the attorney or
party's signature is not groundless and brought in bad faith or
groundless and brought for harassment purposes. A violation of
this rule has the potential to result in the imposition of
sanctions on the attorney and/or party.
investigation is a necessary skill that interns in this Clinic
are required to master. Students are expected to perform and
document their efforts on each and every case to the satisfaction
of the supervising attorney and clinic faculty. Although students
may rely initially on information provided by the client, a total
reliance would be a gross error in judgment. Clients may forget
remote information, possess incorrect or partial information,
have a hidden agenda, or may not have knowledge of the
frequently want to know "how much is enough". There is no rule of
thumb on this, but experience tends to be the best teacher. Your
supervising attorney and Clinic faculty will guide you on this
initially. You will quickly develop a sense about the depth of
"sleuthing" required on any particular case largely because
factual investigation is based on the issues presented in the
By way of example,
family law shares some common themes. The first question is who
is your client. This may seem somewhat simplistic. However, the
next question is a companion to the first and determinative for
me. What legal rights of my client are being impacted? For my
client, this may encompass constitutional issues, paternity,
SAPCR issues, property/debt issues, etc. For me "the who &
what" questions are very important. As an attorney, I want to
make sure I have exercised due diligence and reasonable
investigative efforts prior to filing anything with the
The following is "broad brush" information on how to get
If I have been appointed by the Court as an ad litem (attorney
and/or guardian), I view the Court's file as soon as I become
aware of my appointment. The Court's file can usually give
preliminary information about the parties, the attorneys and the
issues. How you find out about the appointment can also be
Make contact with your client as quickly as possible. Some
clients may not have a telephone or because of economic distress
may have had service terminated. If this occurs, you will need to
generate a client contact letter (see your supervising attorney
& Clinic faculty).
You want to obtain documents initially, such documents may
include but are not limited to, birth certificates for all
children, current and
prior marriage/divorce information, attorney general orders,
credit history report, income tax information, retirement and
financial information, and property and income information.
There is no one stop shop on factual investigation, so be
prepared to pursue a basic search for information by using a
combination of vehicles which will involve your feet and the
Get the initial office computer work done. By this I mean, get on
the Internet and print off your findings for use later. I
recommend moving from county to state to federal as you work your
County: Try going to
Beverly Kaufman's web page first (search: Harris County Clerk
Records). Her web page is currently no cost and allows access to
a variety of databases. If you get a "hit" on her databases,
print it out "landscape" on legal size paper.
Assuming you get "hits" on Beverly Kaufman's database search,
take your printouts to the 4th
Floor of the Administration Building on Fannin and Preston.
Do a microfilm search in an effort to obtain identifying
information on the parties, client, or family members depending
on the issues in your case and the answers to the "who &
Currently, the Clinic does not have online access to JIMS.
Therefore, while you are in the courthouse area, walk across
Fannin to the Civil Courthouse. On the first floor of the Civil
Courthouse Charles Bacarisse maintains public computer access to
the civil district courts' information at no charge.
Pay attention to the time periods under investigation. The "touch
screen" computers cover case information from 1981 to the
present. For pre-1981 information, a search must be performed on
the "green screen" computers. Armed with paper & pen, write
down all the information you can find off of these computers.
Don't limit the "case type" on your searches. You may need
information such as civil liabilities, child support, paternity,
and/or protective orders.
If you get a "hit" on Chuck's computers, make every effort to
access the court's file of the case. With luck, you may be able
to access identifying information, employment information, or
address information through a court's file. If the court's file
cannot be accessed, follow through with microfilm.
Accessing a court's file may be dependent on the time of the case
and whether or not the Attorney General was involved, such as a
IV-D case. The AG tends to keep their files on the 3rd
Floor of the red brick building at 49 San Jacinto
St. (behind the new criminal justice center). Recently closed
cases may be on the 4th Floor of the Civil Courthouse.
Older files may be in the warehouse or an off-site warehouse.
Microfilm can be viewed in the Civil Courthouse, window 7 (will
call window), on the 1st Floor. A criminal file may be
at the criminal courthouse or at the warehouse.
If child support is or has been an issue, you can get a print out
of payment information at no charge in the basement of the Family
Take a walk across San Jacinto St. to the 1st Floor of
the old criminal courthouse (or the new criminal justice center
if they have moved back) and run a criminal search on the JIMS
there at no cost. If you think someone may be currently detained
in jail, you can ask for verification at the window on the
1st floor of the red brick building at 49 San Jacinto
if you have identifying information on the person.
If the above efforts have yielded identifying information, the
remaining searching becomes easier. However, if you've hit dry
wells across the board, you have to decide if you really need
information that you may only get by propounding discovery and
the success of those efforts when the other side is pro se.
Additionally, you need to broaden the search on a state
State: The Texas
Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, maintains a
web page. A statewide search for marriage & divorce
information will require you to download some rather large files.
As of November 2001, the birth and death information is no longer
accessible for Texas on this site.
Don't forget the telephone book and the internet for phone and
You are required to subscribe to PublicData.com which is very
affordable. However, it tends to be more effective if you have
some identifying information.
has been provided to the student interns of the General Civil
Clinic to assist you in getting started on your cases. Two basic
components of this, which are also targeted skills for this
Clinic, are proper investigation of the facts & issues of
your cases coupled with a thorough client interview. I hope the
above helps you in your issue identification and investigation
skills development. Please be aware this device was never
intended to substitute for the personal assistance of the
Clinic's faculty and staff. We are here to help you. Please do
not hesitate to ask us.
Betty J. Luke, LL.M., J.D.
Asst. Prof. of Clinical Studies & Dir. of On-Site Legal
South Texas College of Law Legal Clinics
1602 San Jacinto Street
Houston, Texas 77002
Phone: (713) 652-0009
Fax: (713) 652-5960