Should Your firm Use Private Investigators?

Written by Matthew Spaier, PI


“Always know how you are going to lose your case”. This is a piece of knowledge that was passed on to me by a very wise trial attorney many years ago. By knowing your adversaries position, you know how to better prepare for it. Information and knowledge is of the utmost importance in these instances. A good Private Investigator can give you the leverage you need or can advise you when to “cut bait “and choose your battles. If you are still reading this article, then my statements have caught your attention. Please allow a short introduction before I make the points of my argument. My name is Matthew Spaier. I am the owner of Satellite Investigations Corporation. My business is a Partner For Justice with NYSTLA, approaching our five year partnership anniversary. I also serve as secretary of ALDONYS, The Association Of Licensed Detectives of New York State and I am member of SPI, the Society of Professional Investigators. I have been in business for 10 years and I have over 18 years of investigative experience, 15 of which are in the legal field. My argument will be based solely on the use of Private Investigators for Plaintiff investigations. My business is a boutique business and we only service Plaintiff personal injury law firms.

The first and most important reason to use a Private Investigator for your cases is timeliness. A good investigation company should be able to address new matters either the same or next day. When I mention new matters, I mean new cases or “intakes”. Investigative firms function as the extended arm of your marketing tool. What is your advertising budget? What is your conversion rate for cases you actually want? How often do you lose cases because you did not respond quickly enough? Time is always of the essence. By using a Private Investigation firm, you can ensure timely response.

A good firm should have bilingual investigators. Each investigator should be trained in how to fill out your proprietary paperwork. They should understand the legal process and be able to teach the prospective client how a lawsuit works. The investigator should be a salesperson for your firm. They should be able to answer questions and should know when to defer to the attorney when legal advice is needed. A good investigator should also have the technology to deliver your paperwork in real time so your retainer can be filed in a timely manner.

The second reason for using a Private Investigator relates to professional experience. A good seasoned investigator knows how to collect the information you need. When it comes to photos, they should be able to provide the images and measurements you need for your Notice of Claim. They should be able to recreate an accident scene using a police report.  They should able to speak with witnesses and provide you statements that support the case. They should be aware of the law, what is permissible and stay within the guidelines. Investigators have access to databases and should have relationships in the industry to obtain information that is sensitive to your case. There are a lot of websites out that that offer information that is old and outdated. A good investigator will know where to look and how to get you the information you need. They should also be a Notary. What good is a statement if you can’t use it as an affidavit?  By using a good Private Investigator, an attorney can focus on what they are good at, being a lawyer. I always recommend to my clients that they invest a small amount of money on their cases when they are initially retained. But doing so, it can give you leverage when dealing with an insurance carrier in negotiations. One of my clients stated to me that he calls his investigative budget “house money”. He spends it to work a case up and at times the small investment turns into a nice return for his firm and his client. With the recent change in retainer language, you are not reducing your 1/3 fee if the firm is laying out the expenses for services such as investigations.

Another point you should be aware of is that Article 7 of the General Business Law of New York State Sections 70 and 71 state that you must be a Licensed Private Investigator to conduct investigations. This includes gathering information in Civil, Criminal and Worker’s Compensation matters. The penalty at this time for violating this law is a class B Misdemeanor. By using your own employees who are not licensed to do your investigative work, you can be exposing your practice to unnecessary liability.

This brings me to my third reason for using a Private Investigator. This reason is separation. Credibility is an important factor in the court room. So many times when I testify regarding witnesses, my client states that I do not work for the firm and that I am an outside contractor. It pushes forth the idea of impartiality. Credibility is everything in this business. The investigator also creates that gap between the law firm and the witness. The attorney can bring up in their presentation of the witness to the jury that they had never talked to the witness prior to them being in court. An investigator is able to authenticate and ID evidence and often this is done through stipulation and a court appearance may not even be needed. It is also important to make sure the investigator you work with is carrying the proper insurances. NY State only requires a $10,000 bond. A good investigator should have at least $1,000,000 in General Liability insurance and should also have Workman’s Compensation insurance for their employees. The liability insurance should have an errors and omission clause. I also believe it is important for the investigation company to be a legitimate corporation or LLC. When an investigator is operating as a sole proprietor, they are open to liability if they don’t have the proper coverages. Obtaining references from the investigator you work with is good practice.

In conclusion, I hope this article has been informative and has helped you understand why a Private Investigator has an important role in Plaintiff personal injury cases. If you are not using one, I hope you reconsider on your cases. A good Private Investigator can break your case wide open. Sometimes it’s the leverage that is needed to negotiate, but sometimes it is also knowing when to cut your risk and not bring a case to trial. Satellite Investigations is currently accepting new client business. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or comments