A good private investigator is invaluable to an attorney. They can help provide crucial evidence in marital and child custody cases, track down missing individuals or source critical information in cases involving embezzlement or fraud.
The right private investigator can facilitate success in the court room and shift the outcome of a case in your favor. The wrong one, however, can be ruinous to a criminal case, a civil suit or even your reputation.
They may fall short of expectations, failing to come up with the information needed for a case. Worse, they may obtain the information through channels that won’t hold up in court, rendering their efforts unusable. They may even put the case in jeopardy through unethical or even illegal behavior.
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for an attorney to hire a PI who falls short. Attorneys can be short on time, busy with other cases or simply not that well versed in hiring the right person for the job.
Let’s look at some of the common mistakes attorneys make when hiring a private investigator.
Mistake #1: Failure to do the due diligence
The stakes are high in this industry, which is why it’s imperative to know who you’re hiring and whether they’re up to the task. It takes time to go through someone’s background and understand their fitness for the role – but it’ll take a lot longer to mitigate any fall-out from hiring the wrong person.
Attorneys should ensure that the private investigator in question has solid PI credentials as well as an understanding of litigation support and what that involves.
The private investigator should know how to gather and present information in a way that’s admissible in court, and should be able to testify without any conflicts of interest. An attorney’s due diligence should therefore include an individual’s legal and ethical entanglements – avoiding the risk of compromising evidence or testimony.
Mistake #2: Assuming that all PIs are equal
Credentials are critical when it comes to hiring a private investigator, but so is experience. A common mistake for attorneys to make when hiring a PI is to assume that all candidates share the same background and know-how.
In fact, private investigators come from all walks – both in terms of their qualifications and their on-the-ground experience. When hiring a PI, an attorney should choose candidate with a background that suits the particular case in question. If the working relationship is going to extend beyond that case, then the candidate’s background and experience should be aligned with the attorney’s general area of interest.
This will ensure an effective working relationship – and better outcomes for both.
Mistake #3: Failure to confirm a PI’s business legitimacy
A private investigator might have the background, the credentials and the relevant experience. But if they lack the required licensing or liability insurance, then the working relationship is dead in the water.
Most states require a private investigator to be licensed, a process that involves background checks and the payment of annual fees. An attorney should ensure that a candidate has up-to-date licensing, along with critical essentials such as liability insurance.
Confirming these details will minimize risk within the working relationship, helping to ensure that any assignments can be carried out legitimately and without concern to the legal standing of either individual.
Attorneys should also ensure that the private investigator being hired is the one doing the work, and that the work isn’t being outsourced to a third-party. Outsourcing to a third party negates the time and effort spent on due diligence.
Mistake #4: Failure to define the engagement – and fees
Attorneys are used to crafting air-tight agreements, and they should ensure that the same applies when engaging a private investigator.
Too often a case may involve an open-ended investigation and deliverables – with accompanying fees that are similarly variable. Taking the time to define the scope of the investigation, its duration and what must be provided by the investigator will minimize the risk of unanticipated fees.
Before hiring a private investigator, scope out the case and draw up a written agreement. A fee structure for any additional tasks or deliverables, along with payment terms, should also be agreed upon.
Mistake #5: Adding middlemen and complexity
A final mistake that attorneys make when hiring a private investigator is to add layers of complexity that can compromise the working relationship – and the case.
When hiring a PI, an attorney should do so directly, rather than have the client hire the PI. This then ensures that anything uncovered by the private investigator is considered privileged work product, and is exempt from discovery by the opposing counsel.
Finally, it’s crucial that a private investigator provide a “just the facts” version of any information discovered as part of the investigation. Any deductions, theories and inferences should be kept separate from the final report to ensure that its validity isn’t compromised. When it comes to final reports, simplicity is key.
Avoid these mistakes when hiring a private investigator, and you’ll be on your way to a positive and mutually beneficial working relationship that will deliver results in the courtroom.