“Communication is key.” It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard ad nauseam from your boss, business coach, or in a ‘down-the-rabbit-hole session of TED Talks on Youtube. A simple mantra but it may not be the easiest one to adhere to when you have to spend your day speaking with 100 different vendors about 100 different requests that are past due. You’re either trying to reach someone who spends most of their day in the field or more often, you’re speaking with someone who is providing updates to dozens of people just like you. Regardless, your window for efficient and effective communication is small. It can become overwhelming very quickly, especially when one delay or emergency can derail the entire day. In situations like this, pro-active communication may be the better approach. Starting your correspondence off with a few core concepts in mind can go a long way to help minimize the pitfalls of not being on the same page as your researcher:
Understand your vendor’s coverage areas: Yes, it’s the researcher’s job to know the inner-workings of the courthouse, but having them update you on a regular basis with some of the different nuances and challenges in a specific county or court can help you provide the most accurate updates to your client. This could be anything from a rodent infestation in the file room, to an archiving snafu causing thousands of current records to accidentally be sent to the warehouse, to a year’s worth of records that are trapped in a broken filing cabinet (all three scenarios have happened within the past few years). Certain things are going to be outside of the researcher’s control but the more you know about the situation the better informed and understanding your client will be.
Make sure you know what you are and aren’t getting: This one may seem obvious, but keep in mind if you’re speaking to a vendor in terms of counties instead of courts, you may not be getting what you expect. Many counties are broken down into one Superior or Common Pleas court for felonies and high-grade misdemeanors, and multiple district or magistrate courts for low-grade misdemeanor and sub-misdemeanor offenses. Just because you requested a search in Middlesex County doesn’t necessarily mean you will get records from every single court. Some researchers will only provide the Superior Court. Others will only include the District Court considered to be the “county seat” unless otherwise asked. It is important to inquire as to whether the district/magistrate records are included in your search. Sometimes this will be a separate service, which could incur an additional fee.
Establish clear priorities: I know, I know. “Any good vendor should treat every name as a priority”. While this is the goal of every furnisher, the reality of the situation is that certain coverage areas require more attention than others. Problematic courts that limit the amount of file pulls to 10 a day need to be handled in a more sensitive manner than a court with a consistent 24-hour turn-around time. However, that’s not to say that there is nothing to be done about a more straightforward search that needs extra diligence. It is important to make sure that you convey when a name should be considered of high precedence. Something as simple as a note with the original request such as “priority search, please notify us of any possible delays”, can easily be added to the special instruction field of any database or request log. If you have a daily status update with your vendor via phone-call or e-mail (another beneficial habit), the best approach may be to get into the rhythm of leading with your “hot names”, as well as using that time to discuss any important batches that may be coming down the pike in the near future so that they will have ample time to prepare for the influx of high-priority requests.