What to Look For in a Private Investigator

By Corey King

Have you ever considered hiring a private investigator? Private investigators wear many different hats in the legal industry. As attorneys you routinely handle difficult cases. You need help. The right private investigator can usually help you with any case where you are having a hard time finding information. I will not bore you by explaining what services most investigative agencies offer. They are plastered all over the investigators website and advertisements. Let me instead explain what you should look for in an investigator.

  1. First thing, make sure that they are licensed if it is requirement of the state where the investigation is talking place. In Tennessee, all private investigators have to be licensed. It helps to have investigators that are licensed in other states as well. Dual licenses will allow investigators to cross state lines if there are no reciprocity agreements in place. If they are not dual licensed, make sure they are a member of a national association of investigators. They can usually get an agency referred to you at a discounted rate. Members of these associations also have a code of ethics to abide by. A well connected investigator can help!
  1. Make sure that your investigator is certified and insured. Investigators have to be recertified every so often. In Tennessee, they are required to obtain 12 CPE credits every two years. Two hours has to be devoted to ethics. During these training sessions, investigators are introduced to new investigative methods and improved equipment that could help win the day in court.
  1. How advanced are they? Some investigators have been around for a very long time. That’s great, but the key is staying current with the times. Some may not know how to pull off video using GoPro and iPad cameras or use a file sharing system such as Dropbox. Keeping their techniques current will help pull off those are to get shots. I guess what I’m trying to say is, make sure your investigator’s equipment cannot be confused with a paperweight. An investigator needs to think outside the box. I always tell people, we’ve videoed from planes, trains, and automobiles!

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These pictures were taken in order to document that a subject was hiding someone who was staying overnight at their residence. This was a violation of the paramour provision. This investigator had videoed the same vehicle in the driveway prior and the subject thought they would get away with hiding the vehicle in a field on their property. The field couldn’t be seen front the main road, so the investigator chartered a plane and took to the skies! For two days this investigator documented the vehicle parked in different positions and with different contents in the bed of the truck. The subject wound up getting ten days in jail for being in contempt!

  1. Make sure the agency has both male and female investigators. A diverse group of investigators is the key to pulling off most surveillance assignments in places such as bars, festivals, and event venues.
  1. Take advantage of your work product privilege! Some clients will go around you and hire a private investigator. If this happens, they will most likely have to answer that they have hired an investigator and then fork over the work product. Do not give the other side time to prepare. Make sure you, the attorney are the one hiring the investigator for the case. An attorney is more methodical than their client and knows what needs to be captured on surveillance. Clients will tend to want everything even if it’s irrelevant to the case.
  1. Some investigators hate this, but ask for descriptive video during periods of inactivity. If you want someone watched on a fraud case then there may be long periods of inactivity due to the subject actually being injured. Have your investigator take a few minutes of descriptive video of the area every hour on the hour in order to verify that they didn’t leave. This practice could be applied to any case requiring video surveillance.
  1. Let them do your process serving. Have you ever had those documents that you need issued quickly? If that is not frustrating enough, then you need to get someone to serve it? Process servers can quickly get documents filed, issued, and then effectively served on individuals. Process servers are not confined by county lines like constables, so they can often attempt multiple addresses even if they are in different counties. Private investigators, in my opinion, make the best servers because we wear covert cameras to help refute claims that people were not served and utilize skip tracing databases in effort to find new addresses and employment information. Also, try to find a server or investigator that is a member of a national process server association. They can get your out of state serves completed as well. Usually everyone who is a member of such an association has been screened and certified in process serving. You’re already feeling a little less stressful aren’t you?

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These pictures were taken while serving documents on two different defendants. The private investigators used body-worn covert cameras to records the service.

  1. The last thing I will touch on pertaining to a private investigator is their updating procedures. How often are you updated? A good rule of thumb is to have your investigator update you at the half day and end of day mark. A phone call is fine, but email usually works best. In their email the investigator could provide details that you could easily forward to your client.

The bottom line is the investigator is there to help you. Whether they are acting as an investigator, process server, or courier, a private investigator should be in your speed dial.