Friday, September 11, 2015

So you want to hire (or perhaps become) a Private Investigator. There are some things you should know. (Part 2)

This is part 2 of an informational essay on what is necessary to become a private investigator; and / or how a potential client might find and retain a qualified private investigator.  Information most understandable if read in order.

In Oregon, for example, you should understand that the licensing process is basic and generally attempts to determine if the potential applicant understands associated State law and general liability issues.

Additionally, the applicant is fingerprinted to verify that there is not some sort of criminal background of which the State should be aware.  The applicant is required to be bonded or insured.  In Oregon, a minimal bond is required.  However, many PI firms carry liability insurance for the protection of themselves and the client, with coverage in the neighborhood of one million or more.

In Oregon, and there are variations of this in other States, applicants with little or no prior investigative experience are allowed a ‘provisional license,’ – until they gain some rudimentary experience.  This might be something the potential client may want to inquire about.  Experience is generally important in most professions, but particularly in PI work.  Some states, a few, require no licensing whatsoever.

The ‘excepted category,’ referred to under Oregon law and frequently used in other States, largely refers to private investigators who work for a single employer.

Many law firms use this exception for the purpose of deploying their paralegal or administrative assistant (secretary) to conduct investigations, rather than retaining a licensed private investigator.  It is a practice that is not, for the most part, known to the public.  Theoretically, the paralegal or administrative assistant is under the constant supervision of an attorney; and, I believe, covered by the attorney’s ‘errors and omissions’ insurance.  Whether or not this constant supervision is actually true or even practicable is a controversial issue within the private investigative field.

Clients, when dealing with investigative fees incurred by a law firm (sometimes very expensive investigative fees), should not be shy about asking who conducted the investigation and what was his/her qualifications.  Attorneys use this ‘excepted category,’ as an additional profit opportunity.  Some paralegals and administrative assistants, possibly through trial and error, become quite competent.  Nonetheless, if a client has an important issue that requires a professional investigation, I recommend that you not trust that investigation to the Attorney’s secretary.

Furthermore, attorneys should be aware of the potential requirement that they might have to call a private investigator as a witness – perhaps to impeach another witness or another PI – and what type of impression their PI may have on the jury, including whether or not the PI appears qualified and professional.

One additional comment, that hopefully most attorneys are aware, is that attorneys need to insulate themselves from the witness interview process to preserve their own credibility.  Whether this necessary insulation is preserved by having one of their employees conduct a witness interview is, in my opinion, doubtful.

Some companies and corporations have ‘staff’ investigators.  And, I suppose it makes sense that these staff investigators not be required to be licensed in every state in which they work on behalf of their employer.  On the other hand, if the staff investigator is headquartered in a state that requires licensing, it’s hard for me to accept that he/she should be exempted from usual and customary standards, including the required periodic training and educational programs.  I think the public should expect consistent standards all around – just my opinion.

Who becomes a private investigator?

To be continued…

True Nelson
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