Investigating the lives of plaintiffs’ lawyers

There is a report in The Guardian that News of the World hired investigators to compile reports on the lives of lawyers representing victims of the phone hacking scandal.

At this point, there is not enough evidence, not enough detail to draw a fair inference much less conclusion.  Investigating the professional reputation and track record of opposing counsel is  par for the course, perfectly legal and sensible so long as one sticks to the public record.  The experience, skill and reputation of opposing counsel are factors that are likely to affect the estimated value of  any case.  Lawyers who have the reputation of being ready, willing and able to try a case to conclusion are likely to receive better settlement offers than those who have never tried a case, which raises the question of whether a lawyer who has never tried a case should attempt to handle litigation by herself.

But investigating the private lives of opposing counsel immediately raises questions of intent and legality. Yet one supposes there could be gray areas such as the amount of alcohol opposing counsel drinks at lunch and whether opposing counsel might be susceptible to one sort of temptation or another.  For example, assume an investigator learns that opposing counsel is having financial difficulties.  How might that affect the handling of a case?  Is it fair to look for weaknesses in the private life of plaintiffs’ counsel in order to attempt to take advantage of those weaknesses in the handling of the case?