To effectively advocate a client’s position, one of the many important decisions an attorney will make is to hire a competent private investigator. Private investigators uncover the truth and collect facts in a variety of ways: surveillance may uncover evidence of a malingering insurance claimant, provide crucial evidence in child custody matters or expose dishonest business partners.
Background investigations and advanced data mining techniques are essential components of due diligence and the discovery of complex associations. Skip tracing determines the whereabouts of missing witnesses, family members or those who cannot be located for service and field interviews with recorded statements save time and money when preparing for potential civil litigation or a criminal defense trial.
Obviously, skilled private investigators do so much more than “the basics” and offer a considerable array of additional services too. I believe that everyone in the legal field would agree that an experienced and professional investigator can oftentimes mean the difference between a successful outcome for your client or a crushing verdict in the courtroom.
Four critical qualities to consider prior to selecting a private investigation agency when the need arises:
Licensing and Insurance. Unless an investigator is actually in the employ of your law firm, many states require a license to practice private investigation and have a strict set of requirements that both investigators and agencies must meet in order to acquire licensing. A very few states still do not require state licensing for private investigators, so choose investigators in these states carefully. And while it may not be required by state law, ensure that the agency you select maintains a professional liability insurance policy with errors and omissions coverage. This will help to insulate you and your client in instances where an investigator is accused of professional negligence, not to mention that carrying industry specific insurance is the hallmark of being a committed professional.
Experience and Background. As an example, while the state of Florida requires a comprehensive background check and conducts professional experience verification before issuing a state PI license, it is not uncommon when working assignments in Alabama and Mississippi for us to find that the investigator working on behalf of the other party has had no professional experience, or is a “part timer” at best, and it is often very easy to exploit their work product to our advantage. Verify references, credentials, work experience, educational background and additional industry-specific training received. Private investigation is a profession in which experience, training and resourcefulness matter most! Lastly, contact other attorneys and other professionals who have used private investigators and obtain recommendations; there is no substitute for a referral! Nearly all of our new cases come from either an attorney referral or recommendation by a past customer.
Communication. Time is of the essence! Does the investigator answer the phone or provide a means to reach him or her at critical times? Do they return calls in a timely manner and keep appointments? Request written communication or a report sample; is it professional, organized and free of errors? What does the investigator’s website say? Does it portray professionalism and communicate a message with which you are comfortable being associated?
Ethics. Ethics is acting with an awareness of the need for complying with rules, such as State and Federal law, the customs and expectations of the community, the principles of morality, the policies of the organization and such general concerns as the needs of others and fairness. Ethics gives us a model with which to make decisions and a method to evaluate other people’s behavior as well. It is this concept of judging others that ethics becomes the foundation for professional conduct and therefore, inseparable from our profession. What your investigator does and says will ultimately be a reflection upon you.
Quality investigators can be rare. However, if you follow these simple guidelines and incorporate common sense, you may just find a perfect partnership with a professional investigations agency that will become the basis of your own legal dream team.