Most of you have read in books or seen in films the love-’em-and-leave-’em private eye getting down and dirty with some sweet-talking dame. Great stuff for fiction, but what are the pros and cons of real-world private eyes getting romantically involved with their clients?

Last Valentine’s Day, I posted a guest piece “Lust, Ethics, and the Private Eye” at Terry’s Place, a fellow mystery author’s blog. An excerpt of that article is below.

Lust, Ethics & the Private Eye

by Colleen Collins

Being a private investigator as well as a writer, and that it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss the pros and cons of private investigators and their chosen love interests. We read about these entanglements in stories all the time — from Sam Spade falling into the sack with a wide variety of dames to private eyes conducting more serious affairs with police detectives, clients, even other PIs. Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones in such romantic liaisons.

Let’s first look at the implications of a private investigator getting involved with a law enforcement officer.

Romance with a Law Enforcement Officer

I recently finished a wonderful private eye novel by Jeff Shelby (Liquid Smoke) that features a private eye whose girlfriend is a police detective. Although the police-detective-girlfriend was interested in her boyfriend-PI’s case, she knew better than to get overly involved because her participation in the case had the potential to undermine a legal proceeding. Besides, her department had already assigned other detectives (and the department, knowing about her involvement with the PI, had purposefully not assigned her to work the case as well).

Why were the department and girlfriend-detective being cautious? Because if a romantically involved PI and officer are on different sides of a case, and share–or even appear to share–case information, it can compromise the integrity of both the defense and the prosecution in the trial judge’s eyes. More important, the defendant, after learning that the prosecution and defense investigators were bed partners, could file for a new trial.

Romance with a Client

Lawyers, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in many jurisdictions, there is no legal ban forbidding a PI getting involved with a client.

Even without legal prohibitions, there are powerful reasons why a PI should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients. Probably the most critical reason is the PI’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire PIs to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

Additionally, when an attorney retains the services of a PI, the PI then becomes an agent of that law firm, and the PI’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. If the PI were to get romantically involved with a client, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the investigator’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license.

Because Terry’s Place has a large following of writers, let’s chat a moment about several juicy plot implications of having a private eye getting steamy with a client:

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