The Year in Professional Wisdom, from the 2016 PursuitMag Archive
The editorial committee has combed the archives and complied some of the savviest advice from 2016, as penned by our excellent contributors. From subcontracting and surveillance techniques to depositions and criminal defense investigations, our veteran investigators have taught us a lot in 2016.
The wise investigator will take these tips to heart in the coming year. We hope you enjoy!
1. Poaching isn’t cool.
“Do not try to steal another company’s clients,” writes Richard Brooks, a Mississippi private investigator specializing in insurance fraud investigations. “Believe me: You do not want to build a client list that way … Be patient.”
2. On surveillance, be boring.
“To go undetected, we have to look unremarkable, uninteresting, and uninterested,” says Jeff Davis, a Virginia PI. “Looking cool is out of the question.”
3. But don’t be creepy.
“Be careful when working cases near places like playgrounds, schools, or anywhere families and children gather,” writes Joseph M. LaSorsa in his widely-read article on surveillance last April. “You might find yourself surrounded by some very suspicious and emotional parents.”
4. Keep your cool.
“Opposing counsel may try to bully you, but stay calm,” offers Adam Visnic of Gravitas Professional Services, in a piece about giving depositions. “Your goal is to show no signs of exasperation, anger, or boredom.”
“Become the best at something,” writes Brian Willingham, an open-source intelligence expert. “It’s nice if you are good at a lot of things, but it’s even better to be great at one thing.”
6. Let the facts speak for themselves.
“We must resist any temptation to extrapolate subjective interpretations from objective facts, says medico-legal death investigator Dean Beers. “That’s the jury’s job, not ours.”
7. Be a psychologist.
“A good surveillance operative understands that surveillance is, in part, about falling into the routine and rhythm of your subject,” suggests Steve Koenig, a Nebraska PI. “Those habits … are there for the operative to exploit.”
8. Treat people as equals—even those accused of a crime.
“Treating people with consideration, regardless of their standing in life, is basic decency,” writes bail bondsman Dan Barto. “Not to mention the fact that the ‘criminals’ in question have not as yet been convicted of any crime. They are still awaiting trial. It’s not up to me to judge them.”
9. Fight hard for your client.
“Dig deep, and never become complacent,” says criminal defense investigator April Higuera, who has worked many post-conviction capital cases. “In a perfect world, there would be no need for defense. In the world we live in, the government has an army. The defendant at least needs a team.”
10. Leave no stone unturned.
“Assume nothing, try everything, and have no regrets” is a philosophy that Christopher Borba learned as a police officer—sometimes, the hard way. “You can’t complete a puzzle without all the pieces. And sometimes, what seems like a small piece turns out to be the key to solving your case.”
11. Be ready to change your mind.
“As a retired police officer, I never thought I would … be able to wrap my head around the idea of helping people avoid jail or do less jail time, after spending twenty years putting people in there,” admits Michael McKenna, a criminal defense investigator. “Turns out, my perception of criminal defense investigations was flawed.”
12. Learn how to talk to all kinds of people.
“If you need to talk to an illiterate street person or CEO, know the language,” writes retired investigator T.W. Person in a story about how criminal defense investigations work. “It helps to be pleasant when talking to witnesses. … We do not interrogate anyone.”
13. Never give up.
“A good investigator, like a good reporter, persists, without regard for what kind of ending a story or case seems likely to have,” writes Oliver Mackson, an investigator with the Dutchess County Public Defender’s Office in Poughkeepsie, NY. “There’s always one more phone call to make, one more knock on a stranger’s door, one more night spent tearing up and re-assembling a timeline to see if something’s missing.”
“I confess my biases: Police and the state have way, way too much power,” says Mike Spencer, a Bay-Area private investigator. “If you can’t rally to fight authority, then you are dead inside. On the line is the client’s liberty, life, and reputation.”
15. Mirror, but don’t manipulate.
“A good interviewer uses a dose of psychology, a bit of magic and luck, a touch of the body language skills of a good con artist,” writes John Nardizzi, an investigator, lawyer, and crime writer. “But you never con people.”
16. Get mitigation evidence.
“Each person is different, and each story needs to be told,” says Lindsey Lanehart Craig, a trial consultant and mitigation specialist in Texas. “If you do not delve into who your client is as a person, you are not defending your client to the fullest.”
17. Get to the point.
“When you’re writing, testifying, or teaching, … be clear and patient,” suggests PursuitMag managing editor Kim Green. “Keep your language simple … Avoid jargon whenever possible.
“Showing off won’t help you accomplish your mission — of telling a great story that teaches, persuades, or inspires.”
18. Knock on doors.
Colorado PI and writer Colleen Collins tells the story of a client who suspected a blonde woman of stealing her elderly uncle’s life savings after his death. The case went nowhere until Collins started knocking on neighbors’ doors and interviewing folks from a restaurant frequented by the uncle and the blonde.
A bartender remembered the woman’s name and the town she was from. “We next ran her data in our state court records database, and discovered she had a criminal record for—guess what?—embezzlement,” writes Collins. Case closed.
19. Investigate the client before you take the case.
“Always do your own due diligence on your client no matter whom they claim to be,” writes Barry Maguire of New England Risk Management Investigations. “A surprising number of people are very difficult to deal with. Some are simply mentally and morally deficient. You’ll meet your share of both.”
20. Put your health first.
“It only takes a few minutes a day to exercise, and it takes little to no time at all to eat right,” exhorts Richard Brooks, who changed his habits dramatically after a bout of congestive heart failure. “Your work will improve. You will feel sharper and think better. It will extend your career. And it may also save your life.”