What You Should KNOW Before Hiring An Investigator
Investigators can be crucial to your fact finding. But how you communicate with them can make all the difference in the world.
Jeremy Maurer is not your typical paralegal, leading what some may consider a double life. A full-time paralegal by day, Maurer is also a California licensed private investigator working on cases in his downtime.
As an investigator, Maurer has found that many paralegals give him too little information. The more information an investigator has, the easier it is for him or her to get a jump start on the investigation. “Give me what you have so I can do my job, which is part thinking and then part doing” says Maurer.
What do private investigators want? The answer seems to be unanimous - better communication and information, information, information. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Sherlock Holmes comments to Watson, “I am glad of all details, whether they seem to you to be relevant or not.” While Holmes is a fictional investigator from the late 19th century, this statement rings true today.
Investigators need direction in what the law firm is seeking. Take the time to clarify the purpose of an investigation. Roger Schmedlen, a Michigan licensed investigator with over 35 years of experience, recommends that paralegals “provide a timeline of the relevant events and cast of characters so the investigator can easily understand the issues.”
Schmedlen points out that, “A lot of times, investigators don’t know exactly what the attorney wants. Knowing what the attorney is looking for and what will be beneficial to the case is important.” Letting investigators know exactly what they need to look for enables them to ask the right questions in witness interviews or background searches. Maurer also recommends getting an investigator involved early in the case.
It is important to communicate about specific actions the investigator can and cannot take. When a private investigator is employed by a law firm, they become an agent of the attorney. Rules and regulations that apply to attorneys also apply to private investigators. Many investigators are not aware of the legal and ethical guidelines that they must then follow. Take the time to clarify these issues. Make sure the investigator knows that if a witness is represented by counsel, he cannot interview that witness. Stress the importance of determining whether a witness has legal representation before contacting that person. Maurer tells paralegals, “Don’t be afraid to give specific instructions to investigators…they are part of your team.”
On the flip side, listen to investigators if they tell you they cannot perform certain activities. There are many misconceptions. “In the real world,” Maurer says, “legitimate PIs do not resemble their fictional counterparts.
PIs do not impersonate police officers, bug phones, illegally enter buildings or trespass. They do not place clandestine listening devices.” While licensed investigators may have access to specialized databases, they are restricted by the same laws as private citizens. Their investigations must stay within the scope of the law. Think twice if an investigator says “you don’t want to know” in regards to obtaining information.
Schmedlen recommends paralegals or attorneys have at least a basic knowledge of exactly what the PI is going to do to obtain the information requested. Any information or evidence an investigator obtains illegally is not admissible in court, and an unethical investigator can negatively affect a case. Examples of illegally obtained evidence include pretending to be an employer or the subject of the investigation to obtain bank or phone records, or violating a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy by secretly recording someone’s actions through use of devices such as a “Nanny Cam.” A quality investigator should use legal methods to obtain results, although they may have to be very creative.
The actions of an investigator carry great weight on your case. When hiring a new investigator, Maurer recommends requesting a half hour to an hour free consultation. By sitting down with an investigator and going over the type of investigation needed, details of what you are looking for, and potential strategies, you can both decide if the investigator would be a good fit. If an investigator cannot handle your assignment, ask if they can refer a colleague. Be sure to practice due diligence when hiring a new investigator.
Finally, Schmedlen recommends that to maintain a good rapport with investigators, try to pay them within 30 days, especially if an investigator is working without a retainer. Many investigators understand that the law firms pass their invoice on to the client. In these cases, take the time to follow up in 30 days to see if the client has paid the investigator. If not, follow up with the client. According to Schmedlen, “whether or not the PI has been paid, the fact that the paralegal checked with the PI will be appreciated and remembered.”