A Quick Guide for California Law Firms

The success of a litigation case often hinges on the active participation of all parties involved.

For litigation attorneys in California – especially those involved in PAGA (Private Attorney General Act) cases – the unexpected absence of a plaintiff can delay the settlement or kill the case.

My team has helped support law firms on over 600 PAGA cases, and finding a missing plaintiff is the most common task we encounter by far. Before diving in, we find it helpful to put your missing plaintiff into one of two buckets:

JUST MISSING: You have lost contact with the plaintiff; they may have moved or changed phones.

COLD FEET: The plaintiff is intentionally hiding or playing hard to get.

“Just missing” means you’ll need to work harder to get relevant contact information or unearth current associates.

“Cold feet” means your team will need to be more careful in the approach (verbiage, tone, etc.) when contacting them or their associates.

See our quick guide: Accelerate Employee & Witness Outreach.

Here’s the process – and some shortcuts – for helping your team find a missing plaintiff.

1. Master the Basics: Search

Before diving deep into investigative techniques, start with the basics. Often, the plaintiff may have moved or changed contact details without informing their law firm.

* Google
* Reverse Phone Number Lookup
* Whitepages
* County records searches
* Standard people search

Even the best-run firm will make administrative errors. A mistyped phone number, misspelling in the first name, missing maiden name, or missing hyphen in a last name is enough to derail the cursory search.

BONUS TIP: Google’s built-in advanced filters, especially the “site:URL” modifier hack, can save you tons of time.

2. Social Media Searches

Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and X (Twitter). Searching social media platforms for your plaintiff can often be the easy button. Especially if the plaintiff has been job hunting and recently updated their profile on LinkedIn, a social search can help you nail down their current city location at a minimum. Finding undocumented workers and unskilled workers and laborers can be even more challenging, but it’s still worth checking to see if one of their more public and social friends or family tagged them in a post.

See more advanced research tactics in our quick guide: Overcome Employee Research Obstacles in Labor & Employment Cases

BONUS TIP: If you have recent digital photos of the plaintiff, you can use Google’s new “Search by Image” feature to upload the image and dig through all searchable social media accounts to see if their friends or family have profiles or feeds set to Public.

3. Contact Their Associates

Without breaching attorney-client confidentiality, a soft and direct email, voicemail, or text to one of the plaintiff’s coworkers, friends, or family could help you reach your missing man or woman. Tristar Investigation is working on a battle-tested bank of questions to ask coworkers when building your case.

BONUS TIP: In our experience, being direct with the client yields the best information. Psychological biases are powerful. Human beings possess a strong compulsion to help when someone asks them a more direct question (Read more on the “Copy Machine” Harvard Study). Additionally, if your assistant or paralegal makes the call, a bent truth will show up in their tone and scare off the associate.


“In case of emergency, break glass”

When all else fails, you know where to reach us to put our team on the case. In our 35 years of experience, we have reunited thousands of missing plaintiffs with their attorneys.

We have access to multiple premium databases, a bilingual outreach team, and the best civil investigators in California.

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Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is a private investigator and founder of Tristar Investigation, California’s premiere detective agency. Bruce is also a media commentator for the investigation industry, featured in the New York Times, CNN, History Channel, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times and many more. You can find him on Google+ LinkedIn and YouTube.