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):
- Receive and forward the allegation or complaint to the general counsel or other designated office to determine the validity of the allegation or complaint.
- Review the organization's investigation policy to ensure all steps in the investigation are consistent with established protocol.
- 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).
- Review organizational policies and applicable law to determine if the target of the investigation should be immediately placed on administrative leave, reassigned or terminated.
- Appoint/retain a trained professional or law firm to conduct the internal investigation.
- 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.
- Develop an investigation plan.
- Interview (if possible) the person making the allegation or complaint.
- 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.
- Interview (only if your investigation plan and strategy warrant it) any key witnesses and the target of the investigation.