WHAT IS DISCOVERY?
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Learn about one of the many tools used by lawyers to better understand your case.
To represent a client well in a family law case, a lawyer needs to know the law and the facts. In
real life, lawyers usually know what most of the witnesses will say in trial, unlike on TV and in
the movies where surprise witnesses often show up. That’s because we use “discovery” tools,
like interrogatories, requests for production, subpoenas, and depositions to find out what the facts are, long before we get to trial.
You may be familiar with depositions, like the ones that show up on YouTube. In a deposition,
the lawyer gets to question a witness under oath, to “discover” what the witness knows about the case, and what the witness can be expected to say at trial. The rules of evidence are a little
different in depositions, so lawyers can sometimes ask questions in depositions that they
wouldn’t be allowed to ask in trial, especially in front of a jury.
Interrogatories are just questions (leave it to lawyers to use 6 syllables where 2 will do just fine)
asked in writing and answered under oath. A request for production asks a party in a lawsuit to
“produce” something, usually documents (like a deed, or a lease, or medical records), but
sometimes a thing, like a weapon or a piece of clothing. Subpoenas are used to require witnesses to testify at trial or in a deposition but can also be used to get documents from people who are not parties to the lawsuit.
Some cases will require a lot of discovery, like personal injury cases or divorces involving a lot
of money. But in most family law cases, the information that the lawyers need to know can be
found in the documents the parties are required to file, like financial affidavits. You have a right
to know how expensive discovery will be in your case, so be sure to ask your lawyer. Your
lawyer should help you decide whether the extra expense is worth it.