Any investigation is very simply the gathering together of facts to form a cohesive and logical picture of a given situation. Legal investigation is such a gathering together of facts in a situation which will be tried in a court of law. Because of this, there are exacting requirements, called rules of evidence, which must be met in order for the evidence gathered in the course of such an investigation to be admissible for the judge and jury to see and hear.
The work done by the legal investigator in preparing a case for trial is indispensable to the competent and successful trial attorney, as evidenced by the fact that most law firms of any size throughout the country employ one or more legal investigators, either as staff employees or as independent investigators on a contract basis.
The job of the legal investigator is to assist the attorney in the preparation of litigation. He or she is not a law student or law clerk, but a true professional in his or her own right. The legal investigator’s job is to search out and report the facts to which the attorney can apply the law. Law is an abstraction and needs tangible facts to make it operable.
The legal investigator functions most often in personal injury cases, where his or her job is to determine the responsibility for what happened, and in the defense of criminal cases, where the presence of a legal investigator affords the accused defendant the constitutional rights and guarantees to which he is entitled. Since it is possible for any conceivable field of human endeavor to become the subject of a lawsuit, the legal investigator may surface in any type of litigation where the collecting of facts is important.
The legal investigator differs from a “private eye” in that he or she works not for the private parties directly, but for the attorneys who represent the private parties. Therefore, the legal investigator enjoys the same type of privileged relationship as the attorney does with a client.
The legal investigator is an individual trained in techniques of fact finding and forensic procedures as well as human relations. The legal investigator is committed to the pursuit of truth because it is only by having the true facts at hand that an attorney can intelligently proceed in the best interests of his client. The legal investigator interviews prospective witnesses, prospective parties to the litigation and searches out evidence; be it testimonial, documentary, or physical. The legal investigator’s aim is to assemble as complete a factual picture of a situation as possible.
Opportunities in the field of legal investigation have steadily increased since formal approval of the use of lay legal assistants by lawyers in 1969 by the American Bar Association in Opinion 316. This is a profession where an open and questioning mind is the primary requirement and where neither age nor sex is a barrier to success if the individual is properly prepared and properly motivated. The enthusiasm of youth is just as valuable an asset as the maturity, judgment and experience of advanced years. Men and women have been equally successful in this profession.
The greatest achievement of a legal investigator is to see a fellow human being he or she has worked to help obtain justice from a court of law, regardless of the defendant’s or plaintiff’s power, influence or wealth — or the lack of it. The end result in such a case is often dependent to a great extent on the work done by the legal investigator before it reaches the trial stage.
The legal investigator is also often able to provide valuable insight for the trial attorney, who, being highly trained in the abstraction of law, frequently fails to see the practical side of a given situation.
The painstaking inquiry of the legal investigator is indispensable to the competent and successful trial attorney and to the effective administration of justice in this country.