Investigations are about gathering facts to form a cohesive and well-reasoned picture of a given situation. Legal investigations are also about gathering facts for a given situation with the addition that these facts will be presented in a court of law.
The legal investigator applies her evidence/fact gathering through exacting requirements, called rules of evidence, which must be met for their admissibility for the judge and jury to see and hear.
V.I. Warshawski: A Fictional Legal Investigator
I view V. I. Warshawski, a private investigator character created by writer Sara Paretsky, to be a legal investigator. V.I. attended law school and worked for several years as a public defender, which attests to her understanding and passion for the law. She became a PI in 1982. For fans of the V.I. Warshawski books, you know she works independently as well as for attorneys (not uncommon for real-life legal investigators, too).
A Legal Investigator’s Job
Some legal investigators, such as myself, work in-house at a law firm. Others might work in a public defender or district attorney’s office. Some legal investigators also work as independent contractors, under the umbrella of their own investigations agency, which was how my former PI partner (now a defense attorney) and I conducted our former legal investigations.
A legal investigator’s tasks might include:
– Locating and interviewing witnesses
– Drafting witness interview reports for attorneys
– Reconstructing scenes of crimes
– Helping prepare civil and criminal arguments and defenses
– Serving legal documents
– Testifying in court
– Conducting legal research (for example, drafting pleadings incorporating investigative data, devising defense strategies and supporting subsequent legal proceedings)
– Preparing legal documents that provide factual support for pleadings, briefs and appeals
– Preparing affidavits
– Electronically filing pleadings.
A legal investigator’s training and skills often include:
– Good people skills, sincere interest in people
– Understanding people’s rights to privacy, city ordinances, statutory laws
– A passion for righting wrongs.
Lawyers as Legal Investigators
Sometimes lawyers become legal investigator rather than practice law. That’s certainly true for the PI-character V.I. Warshawski. It’s also true in my former private investigations agency. For eight years my husband, who had a lengthy, former career as a criminal defense attorney, was my PI partner. His knowledge of the law was a boon to our investigations business; in fact, many of our first cases came from defense attorneys who had worked with him in the past.
He has since returned to the practice of law, but he tells me that sometimes he misses being out in the field investigating cases. On his law blog bio, he writes that he is “proud of the many hours he has spent on the streets working as a legal investigator” because he knows that “not-guilty verdicts and huge jury awards are won on the street as much as they are won in the courtroom.”
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