Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Looking Under the Alibi: The Work of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on October 6, 2020

Investigations are about gathering facts to form a cohesive and well-reasoned picture of a given situation. Legal investigations are also about gathering facts for a given situation with the addition that these facts will be presented in a court of law.

The legal investigator applies evidence/fact gathering through exacting requirements, called rules of evidence, which must be met for their admissibility for the judge and jury to see and hear.

V.I. Warshawski: A Fictional Legal Investigator

I view V. I. Warshawski, a private investigator character created by writer Sara Paretsky, to be a legal investigator. V.I. attended law school and worked for several years as a public defender, which attests to her understanding and passion for the law. She became a licensed PI in 1982. For fans of the V.I. Warshawski books, you know she works independently as well as on retainer for some attorneys (not uncommon for real-life legal investigators, too).

A Legal Investigator’s Job

Some legal investigators work in-house at a law firm. Others might work in a public defender or district attorney’s office.  And some work as independent contractors, under the umbrella of their own investigations agency.

A legal investigator’s tasks might include:

  • Locating and interviewing witnesses
  • Drafting witness interview reports for attorneys
  • Reconstructing scenes of crimes
  • Helping prepare civil and criminal arguments and defenses
  • Serving legal documents
  • Testifying in court
  • Conducting legal research (for example, drafting pleadings incorporating investigative data, devising defense strategies and supporting subsequent legal proceedings)
  • Preparing legal documents that provide factual support for pleadings, briefs, and appeals
  • Preparing affidavits
  • Electronically filing pleadings.

A legal investigator’s training and skills often include:

  • Good people skills, sincere interest in people
  • Understanding people’s rights to privacy, city ordinances, statutory laws
  • A passion for righting wrongs.

Lawyers as Legal Investigators

Sometimes lawyers choose to be legal investigator rather than practice law. That’s certainly true for the PI-character V.I. Warshawski. In real life, I know several former lawyers who now prefer to work as legal investigators, one being my PI partner. Their knowledge of the law is a boon to an investigations business and critical to a legal case; after all, not-guilty verdicts and huge jury awards are won on the street as much as they are won in the courtroom.

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