Nearly three years ago, we evolved from a full-time private investigations agency to a full-time law practice. Shaun now specializes in criminal, personal injury and business litigation law; Colleen conducts part-time paralegal and investigative services as well as writing fiction and nonfiction books. Knowing she would be too busy to fulfill all the investigative and process service tasks for the law firm, we put on our thinking caps about which local P.I.s might be a good fit for sub-contract work.
Our Search for a Wing Man/Woman
Prior to opening our investigations agency in 2003, Shaun had been a criminal defense lawyer for nearly two decades and had trained at least a dozen legal investigators during that time. Several have gone on to open their own successful legal investigations agencies. We had also garnered substantial experience during the decade we worked full time as investigators, so our standards were high for hiring a quality P.I. In our search, these were some of our guidelines:
Legal Acumen and Experience
The last thing we wanted an investigator to do was kick in someone’s back door to serve them with a subpoena. Sounds like juicy stuff that only happens in fiction, but unfortunately there have been some process servers/investigators who’ve crossed the legal line in our state, resulting in some messy lawsuits. If that were to happen while working for our law firm, it could be sued for failing to adequately investigate the background of the P.I. Ideally, we wanted someone who had extensive familiarity with the legal issues that arise during investigative activities such as rules of process service, laws of privacy, awareness of the fair debt collection practices act, legal definition of stalking, laws of eavesdropping and wiretapping.
A good investigator never gives up the hunt. We can’t count the number of cases we’ve broken because we stayed that extra fifteen minutes or asked that one last question.
Attention to Detail
It’s one thing to see the big picture in a case, or to know the goal, but it’s another to magnify a piece of the case and extract that telling detail that could crack it.
Must Like People
We wanted a private investigator who likes and deals well with people. A private investigator needs to understand what makes people tick and how to coax information from them. This means the investigator must be part psychologist, part actor, part confidante, part interrogator and always trustworthy. Also, we didn’t want a pompous know-it-all who’d been in the business so long, he/she thinks they know the answers to everything. That kind of holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t leave much, if any, room for discussion or strategizing a case.
A private investigator can be all of the above traits, but if he/she fails to respond to phone calls to our office or is suddenly “out of pocket” without explanation for hours or days, these delays can damage a case. Witnesses can disappear, evidence can be altered, crime scenes can be cleaned up…you get the picture.
We started out looking for an investigator by:
- Contacting a few P.I.s we had worked with and respected, asking if they were interested. One was no longer in the biz, and the other took so long to return our call we realized she was too busy for us.
- Chatting with some of our former attorney-clients with whom we’d worked closely. One recommended a local P.I. who specialized in process services among other investigative tasks. When we called this guy, he might as well have answered his phone, “Hello, I Don’t Want Your Case” because after we told him he’d come highly recommended and we’d like to sub-contract work with him, he started telling us a story of woe about his stack of cases. How his caseload is so large, he would have to schedule our cases weeks out. He grumbled about some of his own clients. We realized this P.I. might be good for this other attorney, but not us. We didn’t need someone who was too busy and griped about his own clients to strangers.
Then We Recalled a P.I. We Had Contacted Years Ago…
Several years before we morphed into a law firm, we had needed some last-minute investigative help on a case. We had contacted another P.I. who said he didn’t have the expertise necessary, but suggested we call Investigator X. We called, he wasn’t in and we left a message. We ended up hiring another investigator because we were under a tight deadline, however Investigator X called us back a few hours later, apologized for not being available when we first called, and asked for us to keep him in mind for future cases.
Years later, we remembered that message. We called, discussed a current case for which we needed help, liked his professionalism and ideas, and hired him for the job. Within twenty-four hours, he had proven his legal acumen and experience, his tenacity, his attention to detail, his ability to deal with different personality types, and his accountability. Three years later, he’s still our wing man.
Whether you’re a P.I. or not, this story shows the importance of simple, everyday business practices. You never know when the call you return opens other doors.
Have a great week, Writing PIs