How do I find a local non-legal researcher for a land use case?
October 29, 2018 3:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I find I a local researcher who has more time than I have to go into online as well as visit local public archives to collect location-specific traffic, crime, and local land use data?

I have multiple questions I need answers for in a lawsuit. There are no legal questions, so I don't need a para-legal. The research job is to collect data and statistics mainly from publicly available sources--local police, ambulance, fire, and traffic accident logs. There's some legwork to go to city hall and look up local undigitalized old land use project proposals. The researchers needs to be somewhat local to my university town, though I don't want to go through the town's public library for this. Additionally, the researcher needs to check old deeds at city hall to determine property lines. If necessary, I could possibly get a second researcher for that.

What kind of researcher do I need? How do I advertise for this person? And what might be the ballpark hourly going rate?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The researchers needs to be somewhat local to my university town, though I don't want to go through the town's public library for this.

I don't know where your University town is but I would be looking for a grad student and I'd be paying $15 to $25 per hour. Maybe someone in the Library Science department, or... honestly any grad student doing a CS or research MA could do this. Put flyers on campus with a gmail address for people to send CVs to, or go through the department.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:19 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

These are very legal questions if you’re looking to put them in evidence in a lawsuit. You typically need someone to testify about where they got information like this, if the information isn’t already public. Your court may vary, but it would be smart to figure out what you need to do to ensure this stuff is admissible before you put a ton of money into it. Land deeds don’t need that kind of thing as much; you can see if there’s a title search company that would help you.

I’m not a lawyer, you should consider getting legal advice depending how much $$$ is on the line.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:43 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Your list is not difficult. However, much depends on the type of dispute you're planning to litigate and whether you're trying to influence a future decision or get a previous decision reversed and, related, if you're pursuing it through municipal elected or appointed bodies or through the courts. You haven't been specific enough for me to offer practical guidance, but you'll likely need a land use lawyer either way. The insights below assume that your matter is fairly complex and/or has high stakes.

Land use law is a highly specialized discipline. Some focus within a particular region or state (bar membership is a factor) while others work nationally, collaborating with local counsel and/or applying to appear as counsel pro hac vice. Your usual route to legal action would be to find a land use attourney willing to take the case who will then martial whatever supporting experts and data are needed from within their professional circles and staff (all have paralegals for running down documents like those you mentioned and some keep planners on staff to interpret them, but most hire expert witnesses who are highly credentialed).

They might re-produce whatever research you or your agent conducted to be certain it was done correctly and nothing pertinent was omitted. When I've been an expert witness in land use cases, the grilling in deposition and in court included how I got the documents/data (especially if I was conducting any further analysis of it) in great detail, including the names of everyone I talked to at the planning office or wherever. Sometimes the attorneys didn't want me digging stuff up on my own because documenting its provenance is a skill and information control is an important part of strategy. They would provide documents/data for my use and if I wanted more, I would have to ask for it and explain my request.

All of this is very expensive, so cases aren't pursued unless the stakes are huge or the matter is precedent setting and can thus attract sponsors; I'm aware of an RLUPA case going on right now where one side is being bankrolled by a very large special interest organization, for example. The experts and lawyers charge multiple hundreds of dollars per hour. If you want to get specific, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by carmicha at 5:45 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you aren't planning to use the documents as evidence in court, it's a pretty straightforward job.

If you are, it's a lot more complicated. People talking about "provenance" and such are skipping an even more basic issue. These documents will be inadmissible as hearsay unless you can demonstrate that they fall into a particular exception. (I know it's not intuitive to think of documents as hearsay, but they presumptively are.) Most of the categories you describe can be gotten in one way or another, but you may need to take special steps to make that possible. The rules vary by state (wherever you'd be thinking about bringing the lawsuit). So if you think you might be using these documents (or data derived from them) in court, I don't see how you get away without consulting a lawyer.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2018

This sounds very much like a job for a paralegal. Paralegals do not just address legal questions. They can gather the facts and documents that need to be gathered to present a case.
posted by megatherium at 2:46 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

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