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Tips Lawyer or Others Should Consider Before Hiring a Private Investigator

Private investigators provide leverage for negotiations as well as critical hard-to-come-by information that can affect key decision-making. Services typically include locating and interviewing witnesses, finding hidden assets, reconstructing accidents and assisting in a criminal defense. Private investigators help locate missing and exploited children, monitor child custody visitations, gather divorce evidence and are trained in the subtle art of surveillance. They can dig up background information on individuals or companies, investigate personal injury fraud or workers comp fraud, and conduct due diligence investigations. The key to negotiations or preparing for trial is having the right information. Many of the internet databases open to the public contain dated or stale information. In this business, old information is tantamount to no information. Private investigators have access to a variety of restricted proprietary databases containing the very latest intelligence.

However, like the legal profession, when it comes to private investigators there are the good, the bad and the downright ugly. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Before you navigate the minefield of hiring and working with a private investigator, consider the following tips:

1. Finding a Private InvestigatorYour best source of information will often be your peers. Speak with other attorneys, especially those with the same legal specialization. They will be able to steer you towards a reputable private investigator with which they have had a positive experience and away from the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ types, of which, there are many. Consider checking with the state P.I organizations for a list of investigators. Furthermore, you can find a local private investigator by searching online through Google, Yahoo! or other search engines.

2. Private Investigator LicensingPrivate investigators are required to be licensed in Malaysia. Malaysian Home Ministry is the one who issued the license which is known as License “2B’ after the company passed stringent requirement set by the ministry. Apart from that, the license need to be renewed on yearly basis by the private investigation agency subject to it fulfilling the renewal requirement i.e. submission of the company annual return, staff training and many others . Therefore, make sure the PI that you want to hire is LICENSED !!!.

3. Complaints and Disciplinary Actions?-You may call the licensing body and find out if there have been any complaints filed on the investigator.

4. Are They Experienced? – It is appropriate to ask the private investigator on their experience when dealing with the P.I industry. Ask about the type of work they do. How long have they been a private eye? What is their background? You will find many investigators who have had decades of law enforcement or legal experience prior to become a private eye. You would not normally hire an immigration attorney to defend a client in a sexual assault case. Nor would you hire a private investigator that specializes in forensic accounting to assist you in a domestic surveillance. Be wary of p.i.’s who say “We do everything.” The term ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’ comes to mind. Along with their experience find out what their specialty is. How many years have they been conducting these types of investigations? Have they been deposed or testified in court?

5. College Degree and Professional Certifications-Although you can become a licensed private investigator without a college degree, any kind of formal education is certainly a plus. Degrees in criminal justice, criminology, sociology and psychology are beneficial for this type of career.

Professional certifications on the other hand are a dime a dozen. There are literally hundreds of them, many not worth the paper they are written on. In fact, there is one association, for example, that will send you a certificate declaring you a “Surveillance Expert” if you order their book on surveillance. The assumption being that you read the book. That being said, there are several certifications which are recognized world-wide and involve a great deal of time, money, studying and dedication to receive. They include the CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and John Reid offer specialized seminars focusing on interviewing, confrontational interviewing, body language and interrogation techniques. These courses are used by law enforcement and private investigators and are highly valued.

6. References and Testimonials-Private investigators may or may not be able to provide you with references or testimonials. People hire private investigators to handle sensitive, delicate and sometimes embarrassing situations. Clients have a right to total confidentiality and often do not want to provide a reference or testimonial because they do not want to make it known that they have used the services of a PI. Other clients work for public entities or government bodies and are often not allowed to provide any type of testimonial. Again, the best source for referrals or testimonials would be your fellow attorneys.

7. Written Contract-Cast your mind back to those heady days when you were a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed One L and studying the exciting world of Contract Law. You were taught that Contract Law is key to our system of laws and it is how we enforce our agreements. Your private investigator should have a written contract for your protection and for theirs. It should detail exactly what the investigator will do and how much it will cost. Assume nothing. Make sure the investigator understands exactly what you want accomplished. Make sure you get a copy. But you already knew that, right?

8. Media Exposure-Has the private investigator published industry articles, a book, or taught a private investigation-related course? Is he or she known in the community? Do they have a web presence and a profile on LinkedIn? Are they viewed as an expert? Doing a little bit of research yourself will help you avoid the inevitable pain, disappointment, and regret you will likely experience by hiring a shady, fly-by-night PI.

9. Appearance-I was once retained by a corporation to handle a sensitive high profile staff matter, although I soon discovered I was not the first private investigator they interviewed. The first PI arrived for the interview wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He also had on a sweat-stained snow ball cap and earrings. The company’s director of corporate security was not impressed. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your private investigator should be articulate, well-groomed, and dressed professionally.

10. The Initial Consultation The initial consultation should be at your office, at a time of your convenience and it should be free. During this meeting, the P.I. should primarily be listening to you and finding out what your needs are. This will also give you an opportunity to size up your private investigator and make the determination if he or she is equal to the task.

11. Cost and Expenses Like attorneys, most private investigators charge an hourly rate anywhere from RM 180 per hour to RM 280 per hour or more, plus expenses. Some PI’s charge a flat rate for investigations, however even that rate is based upon an hourly charge. The more specialized the investigation, the higher the rate. If the rate is significantly lower it may be too good to be true. You may be dealing with an unlicensed investigator and opening yourself up to legal issues down the road. The cost of the investigation will revolve around how much time is needed for it to be completed. Paying a private investigator RM 8000 or RM 15,000.00 for services that save your client money, mitigate risk or keep them from serving time in prison is worth the cost.

12. Retainers Depending on the cost of the investigation many private investigators will ask for a retainer up front. This can also be the case if it is your first time working with a specific private investigator. The retainer, also known as an “evergreen retainer” may be equal to the expected cost of the investigation. Make sure your private investigator’s contract stipulates that they will not exceed the retainer without your authority. Additionally, since private investigators set aside specific hours to conduct surveillance and investigative work (thereby turning away other potential clients) the retainers are often non-refundable.

13. Communication (or the lack thereof) As Robert Plant sang“Communication breakdown, it’s always the same.” At a recent private investigator conference I attended it was announced that the #1 complaint clients had regarding private investigators was their lack of communicating with the client in a timely manner. After assigning an investigation give the private investigator at least a couple of days to get started and get back with you. A good PI. will keep in contact every 2 or 3 days until the investigation is completed.

14. Information a Private Investigator Cannot Provide Private investigators may not legally wire tap, obtain cell phone toll records through use of a pretext, obtain financial records without a court order, pull credit reports without a signed authorization or hack into someone’s email or social media account such as Facebook. So beware, there are investigators willing to do all of these illegal activities for a fee. If it comes out in discovery it’s going to bite you in the gluteus.

15. What Kind of Report Should I Expect? You should expect a detailed, well-written final report specifying the facts of the investigation. It should contain proper names, addresses, and times. It should not contain opinion or supposition. If surveillance was an aspect of the investigation then you should also receive a DVD of the surveillance. Some companies also embed photographs within the report. The video provided by your investigator must have a time and date stamp of the subject’s activities, otherwise it is worthless. A good final report will contain a narrative of the investigation, video prints, photographs, DVD’s, criminal or civil records, social media pictures and more depending on the type of investigation.

Private investigators can be an unlimited source of information and an incredible asset to your law firm. Following these tips will ensure that your experience with a PI. is both positive and productive. There is no need for the additional cost and overhead of hiring and housing in-house investigator. Create your own staffing solutions by finding a reputable and experienced private detective and using him or her as needed.

Based on article titled 16 Tips Attorneys Should Consider Before Hiring a Private Investigator by Scott Fulmer