An attorney has many tools at his or her disposal to help their clients, but an often overlooked tool is the services of a private investigator. Depending upon the type of case you are working on, there is likely one or more services a private investigation firm offers that can be beneficial to your trial attorney practice.

What Does a Trial Attorney Do?

A trial or defense attorney works on behalf of clients to either bring a lawsuit against an individual, business, government or a non-profit organization for the purpose of compensation, or defend clients against such lawsuits.

As any trial attorney knows, most cases never see the inside of a courtroom and are settled by both attorneys. A plaintiff attorney understands the importance of information for the successful conclusion of any case, and it is in this area that defense attorneys often hire a private investigator to augment their legal investigation.

A Legal Investigation by a Private Investigator

To a certain extent, every trial lawyer is involved in a legal investigation, but it is a private investigator that provides a range of services that go well beyond anything normally done by a lawyer. The services offered by a private investigator are wide ranging, but there are specific services that can benefit a defense or plaintiff attorney that fall under the umbrella category of legal investigation. These types of services are done legally, and generate valuable information to assist a trial attorney’s effort to bring a case to a satisfactory conclusion for their client.

The Best Time to Hire a Private Investigator

Ideally, the best time to hire a private investigator is during the initial phase of the case when you are doing some of the research yourself. It is a private investigator that can work with you to fill in the gaps of your own research. This information can be helpful before and during any pre-trial negotiation.

However, once a court date is set, there are limitations on what can be done, but this depends upon the time frame of the court date. For example, if you realize a witness has gone missing, the chances are that our private investigation firm can find the individual, but there may not be enough time to locate them before the trial. Although there is still important work that can be done by our firm during a trial, it is after your initial consultation and hiring by your client that our services can provide the most powerful impact to the case.

What Skills do Private Investigators Have That Can Help a Defense Attorney?

In some situations, a private investigator is saving an attorney’s time by traveling to take a witness statement or taking additional photographs of an accident scene, but in most situations a private investigator is bringing a specialized set of skills that are much different than those of a trial attorney.

The ability to go undercover to get information, the ability to place people under surveillance without detection, interrogating people in casual and non-threatening ways, locating hard-to-find data over the Internet, are only a few of the skills of a private investigator. By hiring a private investigator, a wide range of possibilities open up for new information that may help you and your client.

Services Offered by a Private Investigator

1. Discovery of Assets

An investigation to uncover the amount of assets a person has can be beneficial to an attorney for many reasons, but in general, knowing ahead of time the amount of a monetary judgment that a potential defendant can pay versus the possible damages awarded can be useful information. It can help determine whether a lawsuit is worth the time and money, and it can also help an attorney attempt to negotiate an out of court settlement.

Another way an asset investigation can be helpful is when there is a suspicion of hidden assets. For a plaintiff attorney, this can happen after a judgment has been won, and it is time to collect on the damages awarded by the court. It is not uncommon for people to hide assets for any number of reasons, and if you suspect that assets have been hidden, we have techniques to find them. Often when people hide assets, they do just enough so an attorney cannot locate them, but they are not thinking about hiding them from a private investigator. We have techniques and skills to find these hidden assets.

2. A Robust Process Service

Process service is routine work, until it isn’t. The moment a person evades a routine process server, you have a big problem as an attorney.

You need to have legal papers delivered to someone, perhaps someone who is being sued by your client, but an individual, knowing this, attempts to hide. The truth is that it is not difficult to evade a routine summons or subpoena. Typical process servers have a lot of papers to serve, and if they have trouble serving the first time, they are likely to make a second attempt, but that is all.

A private investigator has a lot of experience with difficult service of process or serving papers to those who are hiding. We have many creative techniques that result in the individual walking right up to an investigator, only to be served the court papers.

3. Locating People

There are a lot of reasons why a trial attorney needs to find a missing person or locate a defendant, but if you have tried all of the basic ways to locate a witness and have not succeeded, then it is time to hire a private investigator. We can go beyond anything a defense attorney is capable of and find exactly where this person is. This includes any place they may be living across state lines.

If the person you are looking for is no longer alive, we will uncover this information, and present you with the evidence we have found. In addition, if the person of interest is incarcerated, we can identify which prison or jail they are being housed in by using our skip trace techniques.

4. Background Checks

A background check can serve various purposes, but for a trial attorney it can take on extra significance. Background checks can be done on people who you will face in court or may have to face you in court. The information gathered by a legal investigator can include a criminal history, civil cases, driving records, work history and income.

Some of this may be of more value to you than other pieces of information, and of course, not all of it may be something that can be used in court. However, the information is gathered legally by our private investigation firm, and it may be of value in preparing for a trial.

5. Taking Witness Statements

In general it is not advisable for an attorney to take a witness statement because they may end up being called as a witness in his own case. There is often also a lot of time involved in doing so, and many plaintiff attorneys rely on statements taken by the police. A private investigator can go beyond this and witnesses can be interviewed a second time to test for inconsistencies in their statement.

A private investigator can also canvass the area where the incident occurred in an effort to discover new witnesses. It is common to find new witnesses because many people simply left the scene of the accident before being interviewed. They didn’t want to get involved or thought there were plenty of other witnesses. Also, we can often get expanded testimony from witnesses who have already gone on record. In short, the police have a limited time to investigate, so witness statements can be missing or incomplete.

6. Accident Investigations

In addition to the services listed under witness statements, information found during an accident investigation will include a complete picture of what happened. Additional photographs can be taken from every angle along with information about weather conditions. For car accidents, we can obtain additional photographs of the vehicle or vehicles in an accident. For premises liability cases, photographs can also be taken of the area in which the incident occurred. If it is a personal injury case involving a dog bite, we can go so far as to find out the history of the dog, and interview people who have had problems with the dog in the past.

There are many possibilities for assistance that a private investigator can give to a trial attorney, including wrongful death cases. The starting point of an accident investigation begins with the police report. A private investigator can augment a police report with missing or incomplete information, so it is up to a trial attorney to decide what information he or she is looking for.

7. Sub Rosa Investigation of an Injury Claim

A subrosa investigation requires stealth work and is something a private investigator excels at. False claims of injury are rampant in the country, and the problem for an attorney defending a client is that many of these false claims are hard to prove.

Soft tissue injuries involving the back are a good example. A private investigator can place this individual under surveillance and perhaps record them doing physical activities that are inconsistent with their claim of injury. People often let their guard down when they think no one is looking, but that is when a private investigator is able to get the information a defense attorney needs. Of course, all of this is done legally, in places where people do not have an expectation of privacy.

8. Identifying a Business

As a trial attorney, obviously you need to know who you are suing. This is not always an easy task, and you don’t want to make a mistake in falsely identifying the target of a lawsuit. This only wastes your time and your client’s time.

We can run an extensive check to determine who owns a particular company. Is it a sole proprietor or a partnership? If a partnership, then who are the partners? If it is a corporation, we can discover if it is a subsidiary of another company. Our private investigation firm can also run a check on all licenses that a business is required to have, if they have them and if they are up to date.

9. Investigation of Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is a serious issue, and a trial attorney needs to bring the threat of a lawsuit to stop it. In some cases a party will need to be brought to court. However, the problem is finding out whose is behind the copyright or trademark infringement.

In some instances, it is straightforward, but when it’s not, that is when you need to hire a private investigator. Perpetrators must be identified. This may include retail stores, but the manufacturing origin is even more important. Surveillance is an important tool in tracing the distribution chain as well as interviews with those not directly involved. Of course, along with identification of the guilty parties, an investigation will include documentation of the copyright infringement to help your legal case.

10. Investigations Conducted in Spanish

The second most common language spoken in the United States is Spanish, and this can be a problem for many defense attorneys. Even though many people are bilingual, they are often more comfortable speaking Spanish, especially if it is their native language.

By hiring a private investigation firm such as ours, you will have the option of an investigation, or a portion of it, conducted in Spanish. This can be of enormous benefit in gathering more information for your case. Police officers are sometimes limited in the report they fill out for an accident due to their lack of Spanish speaking ability. In addition, people who do not speak English at all, may not even give a statement to the police. A Spanish speaking investigator can sometimes bring new light to a case for a trial attorney.

Preparation is a part of success in anything in life, but it takes on greater significance for a trial attorney. Working with a private investigation firm such as ours can give you more information to make better decisions for your clients. The information that we collect in our investigations can help provide you with a better negotiating position with other attorneys, and possibly an advantage if a case goes to trial. Your specific needs will depend upon your client and the circumstances of the case. When you contact us, we will listen to your case, and will explain how our services can assist you

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Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is a private investigator and founder of Tristar Investigation, California’s premiere detective agency. Bruce is also a media commentator for the investigation industry, featured in the New York Times, CNN, History Channel, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times and many more. You can find him on Google+ LinkedIn and YouTube.