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Posts Tagged ‘Legal Investigations’

#BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on April 7, 2015

gavel and scales

Today we’re offering an excerpt from A Lawyer’s Primer for Lawyers: From Crimes to Courtrooms on the work of a legal investigator (from the chapter “Private Investigators”).

A Legal Investigator’s Tasks

Some of you may be familiar with the PI character Kalinda Sharma on the TV series The Good Wife. This is an example of a legal investigator who works in-house at a private law firm. The investigator will have an office, or share an office with another investigator or legal professional. As attorneys need the services of an investigator, they’ll contact their in-house PI to schedule the task.

Other legal investigators might work exclusively for public defenders’ offices or district attorneys’ offices. As there is a lot of investigative work needed for these types of agencies, these investigators would likely have offices within these organizations.

hat and magnifying glass on computer

Then there are legal investigators who work as independent contractors, typically under the umbrella of their own investigations agency. Some of these PIs might have their own offices, and some might work out of a home office. We never knew any PIs who had virtual offices, such as with a law firm, but that’s entirely possible, too.

Wherever a legal investigator works, below is a basic list of their common work tasks:

  • 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 (process service)
  • 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.

An Example of a Legal Investigations Agency

Below is a list of services we listed on our legal investigations website. Next to each service are examples of the kind of law practices for which we did that type of investigative work.

Asset Search

Often divorce attorneys would ask us to check the assets of a client’s husband/wife, sometimes to see what money the soon-to-be ex-spouse might be hiding. At times we also conducted asset searches for probate lawyers to determine if a family member was suddenly buying high-ticket items they couldn’t afford, indicating they might have surreptitiously taken money from a family trust.

Background Research

Many different kinds of lawyers would request background research on an individual or a business, including criminal defense, personal injury, divorce and business litigation lawyers.

Court Records Search

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Similar to background searches, many different types of lawyers requested court records searches, including divorce, personal injury, DUI, business litigation and personal injury law firms.

Expert Witness Location

Although different types of law practices use PIs to locate expert witnesses, we primarily received such requests from personal injury and defense lawyers.

Criminal Records

We would primarily look up criminal court records for divorce and defense attorneys.

Domestic Relations

Divorce attorneys would request us to conduct different investigative tasks for their clients who were in the process of a divorce. Such tasks included surveillances, trash hits (literally this means to check a person’s or business’s garbage for evidence), as well as retrieving criminal records and conducting background checks.

Drunk Driving Defense

We worked with several attorneys who specialized in drunk driving defense. For them we would retrieve Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) court and criminal records, as well as conduct surveillances and trash hits.

Financial Fraud

Primarily probate, business, divorce and defense attorneys hired us to investigate possible financial fraud.

Personal Injury

Obviously, this refers to personal injury lawyers who hired us for such tasks as witness interviews, scene documentation, surveillance and background checks.

Process Service

Primarily, divorce attorneys hired us to deliver, or serve, divorce papers on behalf of their clients. We also served legal papers for probate, personal injury, defense and business law firms.

Mitigation Packages

Criminal defense attorneys sometimes, but not often, hired us to research and prepare these reports. Chapter 16 has more information about mitigation packages.

Skip tracing

This term is industry jargon for finding people, also informally called locates — as in “I want to hire you to do some locates” — which we did for all kinds of law firms, but primarily for criminal defense attorneys.


surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

We mainly conducted surveillances for divorce attorneys, but occasionally received surveillance requests from defense, business, personal injury and probate attorneys.

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

~ End of Excerpt ~

Have a great week, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Other images are licensed by Colleen Collins, and are not to be copied, pasted, distributed or otherwise used.

Posted in Investigating Fraud, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, PIs and Lawyers, process servers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on #BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

From Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Three Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations

Posted by Writing PIs on August 13, 2011

Hello readers,

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes we enjoy blogging about private investigations, many of our topics geared to writers writing sleuths/private investigators. We also walk the talk as we co-own a legal investigations firm. If in the near future one of us returns to also practicing law, we still plan for both of us to conduct investigative work, too.

How to Write a Dick

As our motto says, we also happen to be writers. A few months ago, we finally published an ebook that’s been in the works for years: How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths. This was truly, as they say, a labor of love. We’ve enjoyed answering writers’ questions over the years, presenting workshops at writers’ conferences, writing articles about investigations and crafting plausible PI scenarios…and all that and more went into How to Write a Dick.

Currently available on Kindle and Nook.



How Do Private Eyes Do That?

As we’ve compiled dozens of articles here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we imagined it’d be kinda cool to put “the best of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes” into a book, too.  But we’re not going to call it “The Best of…” because maybe some of those “best” ones are still to be written. After we pondered what the title should be, we decided something straight-forward and to the point was best…something like How Do Private Eyes Do That?

How Do Private Eyes Do That? Articles on the Art of Private Investigations, available October 2011 on Kindle.

How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick

We have a third book we’re working on, geared to legal investigations which is our field of expertise. What do legal investigators do? We specialize in cases involving the courts and we’re typically employed by law firms or lawyers.  We frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locating witnesses, gathering and reviewing evidence, collecting information on the parties to the litigation, taking photographs, testifying in court and assembling evidence and reports for trials.

When it came to a title, How to Be a Legal Investigator was too boring, Legal Investigations 101 was too obvious. Then we decided to follow-up our first Dick book with a second one: How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick.  Definitely eye-catching.
How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick: Legal Investigations 101 will be available spring 2012 on Kindle and Nook.
Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Posted in Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Day in the Life of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on February 10, 2010

Because some people have asked, “What’s a legal investigator?” and because in our PI agency that’s what we primarily do (legal investigations), I thought I’d break down a day in the life of a couple of legal investigators.  We have an extra dimension to our work lately because my business partner is once again studying for the bar exam (in 2 weeks). 

First, here’s the National Association of Legal Investigators’ (NALI) definition of a legal investigator: 

Legal investigators are licensed private investigators or law firm staff investigators who specialize in preparing cases for trial for attorneys. Their job is to gather information and evidence which advance legal theories to benefit the client’s case. The legal investigator must possess knowledge of statutory and case law, local rules of court, civil procedure, forensic sciences, techniques of evidence collection, and its preservation and admissibility.

Legal investigators assist attorneys by reviewing police reports and discovery materials, analyzing and photographing crime or accident scenes, interviewing parties and witnesses, performing background investigations, preparing documentary and demonstrative evidence, recommending experts, and testifying in court. Legal investigators must exhibit the highest standards or professional and ethical conduct.

Now we’ll look at yesterday in “a day in the life of a couple of legal investigators.”

4:30 a.m.: Partner is up, studying (getting the hours in before the work day starts).  Gotta hand it to him, he’s been studying at all hours while juggling other work coming into the office. Sometimes he’s up at 3:30 a.m., other times he “sleeps in” until 6 a.m.

8 a.m – 9 a.m.: Phone calls start. Reminder from a law firm that we have legal papers to serve a bank in the afternoon. New client is driving into Denver, wants to meet for coffee in the a.m.  Paralegal calls, wants to know if an elusive subject has been served yet.  Woman calls, says someone stole her truck from in front of her house. Yes, she’d left the keys in the truck, but only her best friends, a few neighbors, a business acquaintance and her family knew she always left her keys in the truck.  We suggest she discuss this with all those people first, then call us back if the truck is still missing.

11 a.m.: I’m finishing writing several reports. Partner is heading out the door to meet with the new client who’s just arrived in Denver.  It’s going to be a complex, difficult case that will require a lot of travel. We’re already scheduling the travel, where we’ll stay, the interviews, and so on.

noon: Partner’s back, had a good meeting with the new client.  Feels good about client’s character, how he comes across (important elements as we’re expecting this case to go to trial). The coffee shop they met at is one of local haunts–one of the kids who works there knows my partner is studying for the bar and drinking a lot of coffee, so he gifts us a bag of our favorite coffee beans.

Afternoon: Spent driving all over the city. Picking up discovery at one law firm, picking up legal papers at another, serving same papers to the bank, picking up a new case while visiting another law firm, checking addresses for a person we’re trying to locate.  Every time there’s a break, I sit in the car and read through police & EMT reports for another case.

4 p.m.: Home to catch up on phone calls, emails, life stuff.  Partner tells me that after we go out again (for a difficult serve), he plans to spend the rest of the evening studying for the bar exam. I do a “locate” (finding someone) for a law firm. Not easy as the person is using all kinds of addresses–trying to figure out which one is the most relevant.

5:30 p.m.: We head out for the difficult serve. It’s in a bad part of town, serving legal papers to a person who has a history of violence (we’re working on behalf of the law firm who’s representing one of the people who was beaten up by this person). Partner brings his big, black metal flashlight. And good thing he did as it came in handy.

6 p.m.: We find the person’s house. Metal fence around yard that has two overly excited dogs. Partner gets out, tries to talk to them. One turns friendly, the other has an issue with partner trying to get to the front door. Partner turns on flashlight (by now, it’s dark outside), and holds it in front of him. I’m holding my breath inside the car, watching the dog butt its head against the flashlight, growling and barking. Partner keeps walking toward the front door, which suddenly opens. There’s our guy, who has trouble controlling the more aggressive dog. This works in our favor, however, as he readily accepts the papers to get us to leave so he can corral the dog back into the house.

6:45 p.m.: Back at office. We write down our time for the day on the different cases. Partner calls attorney about mid-day interview with new client, gives verbal report. Partner begins studying again for the bar exam.


7-8 p.m.: Watching The Tudors, season two. King Henry VIII is battling with those fighting the Reformation, Anne Boleyn is realizing her days are numbered, Cromwell is driving the suppression, characters are sneaking around, spying on each other.  All that bad faith, legal wrangling, and high drama reminds me of law firms, nasty litigation, and the work of legal investigators.


8:30 p.m.: Woman calls. Found her truck. Seems a neighbor borrowed it without telling her.  We thank her for calling, wish her a good night.

Posted in Legal Investigations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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