A risky and growing trend in the legal arena is the use of in-house paralegals or support staff as an alternative to hiring a trained legal investigator. Although this is understandable, particularly given the cost-effectiveness and convenience of in-house resources, there is no substitute for a professionally trained legal investigator. It takes much more than just an inquisitive mind and Internet savvy to consider oneself an “investigator.” Before assigning investigations to in-house researchers, attorneys should be asking themselves, “How important is getting this information?” and “What if the other side finds out something I did not know about?” A trained legal investigator can identify facts to assist an attorney or law firm achieve a desired result for a client.
Who Needs a Legal Investigator Anyway?
Attorneys and support staff are becoming increasingly adept at using publicly-available search engines (i.e. Google) and accessing third-party resources such as Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. These resources are, of course, also commonly utilized by professional private investigation firms. What attorneys may not realize is that every Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw subscription may contain records from different databases. The research databases in a licensed private investigator’s subscription may contain millions of records and publications that are not available to private law firms. Because of federal and state privacy restrictions, these data brokers will generally provide attorney clients with only limited access to public records. Attorneys should consider what information they may be missing by only using their in-house resources.
Cost Effectiveness v. Cost Efficiency
In an age of shrinking budgets and increased scrutiny of client costs, it is understandable that many attorneys will first look to internal resources and research. However, no amount of Internet savvy will help a paralegal or researcher whose sphere of information is limited by the databases available to him or her. An attorney who uses in-house personnel is at risk of missing critical information that could cost the case, the client, or both.
Where Can Professional Investigator help?
Though it may not be necessary to assign every investigative task to a professional, it could be beneficial to consult an investigator for additional recommendations regarding your case. Certain investigators are immensely skilled at locating a subject for a difficult process service, identifying and interviewing witnesses with critical first-hand knowledge, locating personal assets of an individual or business entity or conducting a thorough background investigation on an expert witness.
A legal investigator is trained to pursue information and facts so that an attorney can intelligently proceed in the best interest of their client. In high-stakes litigation, you may be doing your client a disservice by not retaining the services of a professional. While it may be more cost effective to utilize in-house capacity, it is strongly advised to reconsider cutting corners when it comes to gathering information and case intelligence.