Internal Investigations: The First 72 Hours

An organization's swiftness in launching an inquiry increases the potential quality and quantity of the evidence that can be collected. Each passing hour provides ample opportunity for: (1) the target of the investigation to develop a cover story; (2) a witness to forget crucial testimony; and (3) time for evidence to be misplaced, altered or destroyed. An organization should apply a "72-hour" principle to internal investigations—which recommends an organization complete the following tasks within the first 72 hours of receiving an allegation or complaint (if circumstances permit):

  1. Receive and forward the allegation or complaint to the general counsel or other designated office to determine the validity of the allegation or complaint.
  2. Review the organization's investigation policy to ensure all steps in the investigation are consistent with established protocol.
  3. Conduct a preliminary assessment of the allegation or complaint, which should determine: (a) the credibility and scope of the allegation/compliant; and (b) the most appropriate action to take to address the allegation/complaint (e.g., investigation by internal personnel or external counsel).
  4. Review organizational policies and applicable law to determine if the target of the investigation should be immediately placed on administrative leave, reassigned or terminated.
  5. Appoint/retain a trained professional or law firm to conduct the internal investigation.
  6. Determine whether the circumstances warrant the organization to report an allegation that involves possible criminal/regulatory infractions to the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency.
  7. Develop an investigation plan.
  8. Interview (if possible) the person making the allegation or complaint.
  9. Start the process of securing and collecting all available and known evidence pertinent to the allegation, including: documents; electronic information and data; videos; and other relevant evidence.
  10. Interview (only if your investigation plan and strategy warrant it) any key witnesses and the target of the investigation.