When Should a Lawyer Hire a Private Eye? - Martindale-Avvo

When Should a Lawyer Hire a Private Eye?

private investigator

From Sherlock Holmes to Ace Ventura, private investigators have captured the imagination of American audiences. But when does a lawyer need a private investigator? Here are the types of cases private eyes commonly take on, 12 reasons lawyers hire private investigators, the types of lawyers that work with PIs, and the benefits of employing them.

Types of Cases Private Eyes Commonly Take On

Private investigators can work on numerous cases, but there are some cases they are more likely to be called upon to investigate. These cases include issues of family law, surveillance, and background checks.

Family Law 

One of the most common uses of PIs is family law matters. From tracking down a missing person to investigating suspicions of cheating on a spouse, private investigators are often called upon to help uncover the truth. They may be asked to uncover information about:

  • Adopted family members
  • Hidden assets in a divorce or child support case
  • Infidelity
  • Missing persons
  • Whether an ex-spouse is cohabitating with a new romantic partner


Private investigators are sometimes called upon to conduct surveillance on a target. Targets that PIs may be hired to investigate may include:

  • Abusive exes
  • Cheating spouses
  • Domestic workers
  • People who claim to have been injured
  • Potential stalkers

These cases can involve corporate fraud, infidelity suspicions, insurance agencies, personal injury, and workers’ compensation.

Background Checks

Private investigators are often called on to conduct background checks for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Employment 
  • Housing association acceptance
  • Romantic involvements
  • Security clearance

However, one reason lawyers may call on PIs for their background checking abilities involves vetting witnesses, as well as subjects, targets, and victims. They do this by checking certain issues, such as aliases, criminal records, financial history, hobbies, and social media behavior. 

Lawyers Hire Private Investigators for These 12 Roles

One of the main reasons to hire a private investigator is efficiency. A quick comparison of median hourly wages in New York between PIs and lawyers reveals that lawyers average more than double the hourly wage of private investigators. Rather than conduct an evidence investigation, it often makes sense for lawyers to outsource this role to trusted private investigators. Here are twelve roles lawyers commonly hire private eyes to investigate.

1. To Collect Evidence

Lawyers sometimes hire private investigators to gather evidence for civil cases, like divorce and child custody. The PI may use social media or online message boards for useful information. They may conduct surveillance on the target, taking photographic evidence. Sometimes PIs employ electronic surveillance to track the target’s movements.

2. To Locate Things

Sometimes an attorney may hire a private investigator to find things, like assets. Sometimes spouses hide assets from each other, especially during a divorce, child support, or spousal support case. A private investigator may be able to uncover hidden assets like offshore bank accounts, property, cryptocurrency, domestic bank accounts, and other assets.

3. To Gather Background Information

An attorney may ask a private investigator to sift through someone’s background history. PIs can search through local, state, and federal records to find information related to arrests and civil filings. If the party is part of a professional association, the lawyer may request that the PI look into professional disciplinary actions and suspended or revoked licenses.

4. To Locate a Person

Sometimes lawyers need to find people. This could be because they need to serve a lawsuit, find an heir, or ask the person questions related to a case. A private investigator can help the lawyer locate the person, regardless of the reason.

5. To Monitor Intellectual Property

If a client has significant interests in their intellectual property (IP), they may call upon their legal team to ensure their IP is not violated. Many lawyers will outsource this task to private investigators. The lawyer can review the evidence and consider filing a claim if the private eye finds any indication of an IP violation.

6. To Prepare for Cross-Examination

A lawyer may hire a PI to review a witness’s background history. If the investigator finds valuable information, the lawyer may be able to discredit the witness’s testimony. Alternatively, an attorney can hire a PI to review their witnesses to be aware of and prepare for any weaknesses in their witnesses’ history.

7. To Reconstruct the History

Sometimes private investigators are employed to interview witnesses and conduct other investigative actions to help rebuild a case’s background. These cases could be related to:

  • Acquisition of property in a marriage or business 
  • Chain of title in a real estate case
  • Corporate history
  • Family history and the determination of heirs

8. To Review Electronic Evidence

Sometimes private investigators are hired to review electronic evidence, like computer documents, audio and voice files, and emails. The lawyer can tell the PI what type of information to look for. This can be a more efficient way of reviewing the evidence rather than searching through everything yourself.

9. To Support a Claim

If a client hopes to submit an insurance settlement claim, sometimes it is wise for an attorney to call in a private investigator to review documents, conduct surveillance, and interview witnesses related to the claim. This can help improve the settlement value of the claim.

10. To Investigate the Other Party

In cases requiring due diligence, a lawyer may hire a private eye to conduct a background check and investigation of the party. This party could be a potential business partner or investor. The PI would likely be investigating possible risks associated with the party.

11. To Strengthen a Criminal Defense Case

A defense attorney should investigate the case as thoroughly as the prosecutor. A lawyer may bring on a PI to find witnesses and other evidence that will help the defense team get their client acquitted.

The PI may also sift through the evidence to search for gaps of missing information or inconsistencies. These missing pieces can sometimes provide the legal team insight on how to best defend their client. 

12. To Offer General Assistance

Sometimes private investigators are brought in to help criminal defense attorneys or civil lawyers with various aspects of a case. They may be requested to conduct an independent investigation of the evidence. The attorney would then have access to any additional information that the PI’s investigation brought to light. 

In other scenarios, private eyes are retained. For example, they could be retained by insurance companies to investigate the validity of injured victims’ claims.

Some law offices even have full-time investigators on staff. Other times, they may regularly hire local private investigators with whom they have built a strong rapport over past cases. Some public state attorney offices hire full-time investigators to assist their legal teams.

What Types of Lawyers Hire PIs?

Private eyes work with many different types of lawyers. The following types of attorneys may employ PIs:

  • Civil lawyers
  • Criminal lawyers
  • Corporate lawyers
  • Estate attorneys
  • Family lawyers
  • Personal injury lawyers

A strong argument for utilizing a private investigator can be made for most types of legal practice, but the above are a few types of lawyers that PIs work with.

Lawyer Benefits

What do private investigators give lawyers? There are several benefits that lawyers get from their partnerships with private investigators. A few of the top benefits attorneys receive via this relationship include:

  • Additional perspective into a complicated case
  • An efficient and economical way to gather and review evidence
  • Foreknowledge of witness weaknesses and time to prepare defenses

Private Eyes Play an Important Role

While private investigators today may be most famous for tracking down cheating partners on reality TV, they regularly play an essential role in the justice system. They understand the law and can help uncover wrongful actions like unlawful arrests. They are often utilized to uncover evidence and other information that could become key in a legal case. They are employed by various types of attorneys to increase efficiency, prove innocence, and discover crucial evidential facts or inconsistencies.

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