When you start an investigations business, or work for an investigations company, one of the skills you must learn early on is the administration of your file system and the organizing of your office system. After 18 years of being in the business, I am fortunate enough to have a very capable office manager to assist me with my agency’s daily administrative tasks, but generally, starting out you will probably be on your own and a system must be implemented for the intake of new assignments, organizing your investigations and for preparing, locating and storing case files.
Every investigations firm should have an intake procedure in place by way of a standard intake form. Intake is your initial consultation with the client and from the information obtained, the investigator will be able to advise the prospective client what, if anything, may be done and what the estimated costs will be to conduct the investigation.
Information obtained from the prospective client at intake should always include:
ü Telephone number
ü E-mail address
ü Business name (if applicable)
ü Street address, city, state and zip code
ü What is the goal of this investigation or the purpose of the request for information being sought by the client?
ü What is it the client wants the investigator to do in this matter?
ü Obtain the name, identifying information and current or last known address of the subject(s) of the investigation.
ü Obtain a description of the subject, his/her vehicles, employers, hangouts, etc.
ü How soon must the investigation be completed? When would the client like the investigation to begin?
ü If applicable, what is the name and telephone of the attorney who is representing the client in this matter?
ü Are there any special circumstances or is there any additional information of which the client is aware that may assist the investigator in the investigation?
Efficient file management is of critical importance. Lost and/or misplaced files, improper documentation and poor record keeping can cause serious damage to your reputation and may result in the loss of the client’s confidence in your investigative abilities. I like to think of files as the nerve center of any office, so the proper storage, safekeeping and expeditious retrieval is the key to running an efficient business. During the course of an investigation, you will create and gather numerous documents such as:
– Intake forms;
– Retainer agreements or engagement letters;
– Legal research and opinions;
– Investigative and interview plans;
– Contact and witness lists;
– Investigator notes;
– Notes of phone conversations;
– Travel and expense reports;
– Statements from complainant(s), witnesses and/or subjects;
– Results and reports of interviews;
– Laws, regulations, directives, instructions and policy statements; and,
– Drafts of many of the aforementioned documents.
Once you accept an assignment, you immediately begin collecting documents for the file. At the time of an initial consult, I set up a client folder and prefer the folders with two hole-prongs at the top of the right and left sides.
On the right side of the folder I keep a copy of all correspondence in reverse chronological order, with the most recent correspondence placed on top. I keep the case intake report on top of the correspondence at all times for quick and easy reference. To keep all documents organized and neatly held together, they should be two-hole punched at the top and clipped down on the right side of the folder.
On the left side of the folder I clip the retainer agreement, signed by the client, on the top and any payments and/or receipts behind the retainer agreement.
I then prepare a label for the file folder that will have the following information:
Client: Last name, first name Type of case
Subject: Last name, first name Date of intake
Assigned to: Investigator last name, first name
There are two major kinds of filing systems: the alphabetical system and the numerical system. An alphabetical system arranges files in alphabetical order by the client’s last name or by the company’s name. The numerical system uses numbers or letter combinations to identify files and if you are using case file management software, the numbers often are derived automatically by the program.
All documents such as emails and correspondence should also be saved on a computer directory that has been established for each particular case you are handling. Any documents, correspondence, etc., received from the client should be scanned and saved in its appropriate directory. This way, everything in the paper file will match the computer file to safeguard against loss, damage or destruction of one or the other. All paper files, especially investigative reports, should be kept in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet. Surveillance discs and videotapes that do not easily fit into paper files are labeled alphabetically and placed in a fireproof storage drawer.
Once the office completes a case, the file becomes a closed file. Be aware of practical considerations, state laws and rules of ethics when deciding how long to keep an investigation file. Most businesses keep at least a scanned version of the file on disc for up to five years. Important paper documents should always be returned to the client. Old files should be obliterated, burned or cross-cut shredded prior to disposal.
The key to good file management is to:
– Organize documents to facilitate review and enable another investigator to quickly and easily access information in the file on short notice;
– Clearly identify and label draft documents;
– Note computer file names on hard copies for quick cross-reference; and,
– Maintain electronic copy backups, or make a note of their location, in the case file.
This article is a small excerpt from PIeducation.com 70-hour Georgia Private Detective Pre-Licensing class ; this online course includes 70 hours of instruction and satisfies the Georgia Board of Private Detective and Security Agencies pre-license education requirements.