Planning the Internal Investigation

Author: Michael L. Buckner, Esquire (Shareholder)

Once an organization determines who will conduct the internal investigation, it is crucial to properly plan the inquiry. The planning phase involves: (a) reaching a preliminary determination of the scope, goals, facts and issues involved in the inquiry; (b) preparing the investigation plan; and (c) creating and maintaining an investigative management file.

Preliminary Determination

An investigator should begin planning the internal investigation by making a preliminary determination of the following items:

  • Legal and factual issues expected to be encountered during the investigation.
  • Potential legal exposure and regulatory sanctions faced by the organization.
  • Location, volume and identity of the key documents to be reviewed.
  • Identity and location of key persons to be interviewed.
  • Coordination of the communication of the organization’s investigation to pertinent outside parties (e.g., regulatory agencies).
  • Organization of the reporting and supervising scheme for the internal investigation.
  • Contingency measures.
  • Identity of additional persons, experts or groups to assist the investigator.

Investigation Plan and Chart

After a preliminary determination has been developed by the investigator, the preparation of an investigation plan and investigation chart are key to a successful inquiry. An investigation plan maps out the strategy and steps involved in an inquiry and includes, at a minimum, the following items:

  • Documentation of the conclusions reached during the preliminary determination.
  • Issues, topics and matters to be examined during the investigation.
  • Detailed investigative task list, including: (a) identification of responsibilities for each investigation team member; and (b) estimate of the timeline (i.e., anticipated start and completion dates) for each investigative task.
  • Plan and procedure for the communication between the investigator and organization.
  • Identification of staff, areas, offices and departments that will be involved in the investigation.
  • Identification of additional expertise or logistical support required by the investigator.
  • Expected fees and costs.
  • Milestones and report dates.
  • Possible outcomes.

The plan should be reviewed and approved by the organization’s chief executive officer or the person at the organization to whom the investigator reports. After the plan has been approved, the investigator should review the plan periodically during the course of the inquiry. Most importantly, the plan should be flexible so that it can be revised if the investigator receives pertinent additional information or feedback, including: (a) addition of tasks to address any oversights; (b) adjustments to the investigation timeline; (c) determination if additional documents need to be collected or persons interviewed; and (d) identification of issues or allegations that require a separate investigation.

Based on the available information, an investigator prepares an initial investigation chart. An investigation chart contains the associations of people and organizations, as well as important events, involved in the alleged violation. This exercise enables an investigator to understand the assorted information in a visual format. Also, an investigation chart can be used to prepare for interviews or to design evidence searches. An investigation chart should be revised as the investigator collects additional information during the investigation.

Investigation Management File

An effective investigation is maintained through the documentation, filing and maintenance of information collected by investigators. A well-organized investigation management file allows investigators to access or locate quickly and efficiently the log of collected physical evidence, interview tapes and summaries, list of important persons and organizations, resource directory and other investigative materials. An investigation management file consists of the following elements: (a) a means to catalog the information using a computer system, filing system or card reference system; and (b) a secure place to store the information. No matter what system an investigator implements, however, it must be organized, maintained and able to provide the investigator with information at a moment’s notice. Most importantly, a complete investigation management file places everything that assists the investigator when preparing the investigation report.

Contact Michael L. Buckner (954-941-1844; for additional information on conducting internal investigations.