Investigators Debate Essential Skills

This is my first contribution to Law.com, so it’s fitting, I think, to make it personal, to tell readers a little about myself and why my experience on this site is unique. I’m going to do that by telling a true story.

The other day I was asked to give a presentation for an orientation class for new members of the Private Investigators Association of Virginia (PIAVA). I used to be the President of PIAVA, but I decided not to run for reelection last October to focus on writing another book about international privacy. That work is in progress, and becoming a contributor on this site was part of my goal to have a forum to write about some of my findings as I’m doing research for the book.

Anyway, after I agreed to talk at the orientation class, I asked PIAVA’s current President Kenneth D’Angelo what he wanted me to talk about. My topic would be on “administrative investigations,” he informed me.

I told Ken that sounded great, but I just had one question: “What is an administrative investigation?”

Ken’s response: “You know, the voodoo that you do so well.” He suggested talking about witness interviews, court and records research, litigation support, note taking, and report writing. Those are all things I know a lot about, having been a private investigator for fifteen years and having written two books about how to do investigations. However, those are lofty topics for a one-hour orientation speech.

Yesterday I set aside some time toward the end of the day to think of things to say to the new PIAVA members. What can you say in an hour to a group of people who are new to the field of investigating? I decided the question is similar to the question of what to write to a legal audience like the readers of Law.com, some of whom may not have a lot of experience working with investigators.

I worked from home yesterday to write investigative reports, and it was toward the end of the day that I really started to think about these questions. It was at that moment I heard a chime on my iPad, and it turned out to be a tweet from Eli Rosenblatt, a private investigator in Portland, who invited me and some others to weigh in on essential skills for investigators. We used a hashtag to track the conversation, and different investigators weighed in on what they thought were some of our essential skills.

Eli tweeted a few good ideas to get the conversation started, including:

• Not losing your cool and staying polite in the face of crushingly intransigent petty bureaucrats and gatekeepers

• Navigating difficult relationships with clients and witnesses with grace and patience

• Knowing your way around all the essential public record and social media searches

In response to the last tweet, I offered: “Knowing what you can’t know and being okay with that.”

“Creativity,” chimed in New York investigator Brian Willingham.

Mike Spencer, a private investigator in California, wrote: “Knowing what cases fit you and being honest enough to say when they don’t.”

John Powers, an investigator with an Ohio firm, added: “Recognition that you are the only person lying awake at night thinking about the investigation—again.”

As I read the ongoing discussion, it occurred to me that this is perhaps the perfect anecdote to give during the PIAVA orientation, and also a great topic for my first Law.com article. For readers who may have never heard of me and who don’t know the private investigation industry, this conversation affords a unique window into how investigators think and what is important to us. You see, we constantly worry about how to best do our jobs, where to find information, and about what makes us unique. We worry about how our clients—mostly lawyers—view us. We all have different specialties and interests, but we universally want to be perceived as professional and valuable to the people who use our services.

We worry, and we fret over the details of our cases, and we debate about what makes us good at what we do; if I could convey only one thing during the PIAVA orientation, and if I were only to contribute one article on Law.com, it would be this knowledge.

What is the most essential skill for a good investigator?

“Introspection,” I tweeted.

I look forward to doing some of that here.

More by | Philip Becnel Philip Becnel , Law.com Contributor
LOAD MORE