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A Private Investigator’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Attorney-Clients

Posted by Writing PIs on November 29, 2011

Many private investigators work with attorney-clients, with some (such as legal investigators) working exclusively with attorneys. This symbiotic relationship can be challenging because PIs and lawyers often have differing work styles, training and professional objectives. For example:

  • Many PIs work alone, in fact some pride themselves on being lone wolves. Although some attorneys also work alone, many work in cooperation with other lawyers and legal staff members.
  • PIs’s training covers a wide spectrum, from little training (for those who work in unlicensed states) to extensive backgrounds in accounting, law enforcement, computer science, even psychology. Attorneys, on the other hand, earn doctorate degrees and must pass a grueling bar exam that covers every aspect of the law.
  • As to professional objectives, a PI has a vested financial interest in completing work tasks and issuing his/her invoice. Lawyers are on a different time clock, where the best resolution for the client may take months, sometimes years.

A PI who works with attorney-clients needs to employ certain tactics to not only co-exist well with lawyers, but to make this a profitable vocation.

Three tips on the care and feeding of attorney-clients

Tip #1: Be prepared, timely and succinct. Attorneys are busy people who’re juggling dozens, sometimes hundreds of clients. When you schedule a meeting with an attorney, bring an agenda, reports and important evidence. Be on time — punctuality is a courtesy to anyone, be it an attorney-client or your other investigation clients.

Be on time. Punctuality is a courtesy to everyone.

Don’t ramble on at meetings — be succinct and to the point. Both of you are professionals who are handling important client matters.

Tip #2: Focus your investigative products. Lawyers don’t pay investigators for opinions and speculations about what judges and juries will do — lawyers pay for facts and evidence. Make sure your investigative reports, both oral and written, scrupulously adhere to agreed-upon investigative strategies and goals defined by you and your attorney-client.  For example, if an attorney requests for you to find out the color of a specific vehicle that a witness saw, focus on obtaining that evidence — don’t gather extraneous data such as the neighborhood where the observation occurred or the color of other vehicles in the area!

Tip #3: Be knowledgeable about the legal basics of what you’re investigating. If you’re going to work for attorney-

If a PI works for family law attorneys, the PI should understand basic family law doctrines.

clients, understand the playing field. It’s critical to understand legal basics — for example, if you’re specializing in criminal defense investigations, you should understand the principles of criminal culpability. If you specialize in family law cases, you should have a basic understanding of such family law doctrines as child custody guidelines and no-fault/fault divorces (depending on the state you’re in). There are numerous options to understand legal fundamentals, from taking a course at a community college to obtaining certification through the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI).

A piece of advice from Shaun Kaufman, one of the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes authors who’s also a licensed attorney: Before arriving at a meeting with your lawyer, call his/her paralegal and ask what the lawyer is most concerned about for that case. Paralegals often know more about the case’s investigative needs than the lawyer does.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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One Response to “A Private Investigator’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Attorney-Clients”

  1. Great Article & couldn’t agree more!

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