Not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on legal and investigative fees, which is why we get asked quite often whether private investigators can work on a contingency fee basis.
In fact, it is one of the most common questions we receive when interviewing clients about a new case. Can we conduct an investigation on a contingency basis? Or conduct the investigation for some type of reward?
It’s a reasonable question. Attorneys will frequently work under a contingency fee arrangement. But there are a number of reasons why we do not work on contingency and why you should not hire a private investigator on a contingency fee basis either.
First, hiring a private investigator in the state of New York under a contingency fee arrangement or for a reward is against the law. Diligentia Group is licensed to conduct private investigations by the state of New York, so this is a non-starter.
However, based on our research, New York is one of just a few states that have a specific rule against contingency fees for private investigators.
Aside from the legal implications, there are moral and ethical reasons why you should avoid hiring private investigators on contingency.
￼4 Reasons You Should Not Hire a Private Investigator on Contingency
1Private investigators are hired to uncover facts and evidence.
The unbiased discovery of facts and evidence in the case should be the sole motivation for an investigator to find evidence. If an investigator is getting paid by the amount of evidence presented, false evidence is sure to be “found,” or at the very least, facts that may not be helpful may be “forgotten.” Finding facts and evidence runs completely counter to the motivation driving its discovery in the contingency scenario.
2 The moral compass of an investigator will be corrupted by a reward or contingency fee.
Let’s be honest, we are all in business to make money. If the job we are hired to do is now predicated on presenting some form of “results,” then some moral or ethical lines may be crossed in an attempt to produce something tangible to earn a paycheck. Greed is a pretty powerful thing.
3 False or unethically obtained evidence is of no value.
Information obtained from illegal sources is worthless. A private investigator may go to great lengths to present some information when hired on a contingency basis—finding information is the only way to ensure they get paid. If the information from the investigation is falsified or obtained illegally, what good is it? In fact, the investigator’s desperation to produce something tangible has now put you, the client, at risk. And a client may or may not be liable for anything obtained illegally by his or her investigator.
4 Testimony can be banned if there are questionable fees involved.
If you are contemplating hiring an investigator for a legal matter, chances are that the investigator may be called to testify as an expert witness. Judges don’t take too kindly to expert witnesses receiving fees based on the outcome of the case. Just recently, a federal judge banned testimony from a doctor who testified that a $450,000 surgery was “reasonable and necessary” to correct injuries and who would only be paid for his testimony if the plaintiffs received a favorable outcome in the case. So, if there is any chance of the investigator testifying, it may all be for naught.
Regardless if it is legal in the state that you reside, hiring an investigator on a contingency fee basis is a slippery slope.