Thank you for the incredible response to our survey!
We had 136 responses, from investigators who work in a wide range of investigative areas and in every region of the U.S. (including Alaska), including big metro areas and rural counties — plus one respondent apiece from Canada and New Zealand.
Thanks so much to everyone who participated. We hope you find this helpful, or inspirational, somehow. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas for how to use the down time. Or maybe, at the very least, hearing from colleagues about this shared experience might make you feel a little less alone.
Here’s an overview of your responses (with a sampling of representative comments):
What type of work is your main source of income?
How large is your firm?
Have you already noticed a work slowdown or loss of income?
What are you seeing in your industry and region?
Most respondents mentioned court closures and trial continuations. Some cited late payments or a slowdown in calls and surmised that private clients were nervous and holding onto their money. Many said fieldwork (e.g. process service and in-person interviews) had stopped because of area shelter-at-home mandates. Some have replaced fieldwork with remote work like asset searches, people locates, phone interviews and background checks, and a few PIs (generally specializing in litigation support, work for attorneys, and open-source) said things were business as usual.
“Some courts in Arizona are closed to persons not a party to a case, which means no access to the Clerk of Court to get records. Courts are making records available over the phone.” —Steve Mason, Gilbert (Phoenix area), AZ
“Some courts closed, but our primary lawyer-clients are staying busy. Currently, lots of process services, more spur-of-the-moment legal research & writing.” —Writing PIs (Colleen and Shaun), Denver, CO
“All courts closed so no rush requests. No process serving. Reluctant to serve some clients who want door knocks etc., because that just brings more risk.” —Michael Joseph Spencer, Walnut Creek, California Bay Area
“Courts have closed for trial settings and contested hearings, but they are moving forward with uncontested, quick, rubber-stamp civil hearings, as well as criminal pleas. Attorneys and their essential staff/agents were exempted in our county-wide shelter in place orders (read, investigators), along with those who support the operations of the Court, i.e. process servers. So the takeaway for us is that we can keep working. The wheels of justice are still turning, albeit more slowly for the time being.” —Jason Attas, Waco, TX
“We have a shutdown of the court system as well as stay in place orders. Our biggest client has had to cancel over 200 SOP assignments with us and our insurance clients have suspended surveillance for awhile due to claimants most likely never leaving the home. Private individuals are not inquiring since they are unsure if they have money for basic necessities.” —Ben Lopez, Chicago, IL
“Courts closed but plenty of stationary surveillance opportunities. Some service of process and data gathering i.e., late night visits. Also some security assignments.” —Greg Garrett, Marina del Rey, CA
“Long term contracts suspended. Clients put holds on most cases. Accepting cases I don’t usually take like locates (mostly family locates).” —DG, Albuquerque, NM
“Insurance-related claims investigations have slowed as well as surveillance for employment and family law. Court closures are impacting pre employment background checks.” —Tim Santoni, Orange County, California
“Typically a lot of domestic cases this time of year. That’s completely halted for me.” —Scott Meyers, Metro Atlanta
“Not much coming in. Did a bank account search case for a local attorney on a judgment recovery case but my usual accident investigation work has stopped. Thank God I have a police pension!” —MDD, Upstate NY
“It’s a ghost town currently. Prior to COVID-19, averaged 5-10 calls a day. Currently at 1. Many cancelations have occurred as well on both investigations and process serving.” —Midwest
“Even the divorce attorneys are getting nervous.” —AR, Nashville, TN
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 = maximum concern & 10 = optimistic), how do you feel about the immediate future of your business?
From a business standpoint, do you see this more as a crisis or an opportunity?
What are you doing right now to seek new business? If you suddenly have more free time than usual, how are you using it?
A lot of respondents are catching up on paperwork and invoices, streamlining workflow systems in their offices, updating their email client lists, reaching out to clients by phone or email, and scheduling Zoom networking meetups. Several plan to spend more time on marketing, writing articles, blogging, and producing podcasts and videos. Others are spending time with family or working on projects at home.
“Case reviews, catching up on paperwork and organization, establishing new connections on social media, preparing more video content for our YouTube channel.” —Mark Murnan, Palm Beach County, FL
“Newsletter, blog, emails, phone calls. Sharpening my investigative skills via online education, as well as working on five open cases.” —Rachele’ Davis, based in Missouri/Kansas
“E-mailing clients that we are open for business … and able to serve them during this crisis. I am asking for their patience since so many other related functions may be slowed down, but we can definitely still be working. The Clerks of the Courts are still open for business, so criminal and civil filings are still possible. I have used this slowdown to re-organize the office and tinker with new internal operations and workflows in order to further streamline our backend work when everything goes back to normal.” —Jason Attas, Waco, TX
“Contacting heavy players in plaintiff’s cases/personal injury and criminal defense. Working through all my cases and getting all my billing up to date. Writing more. Figuring out how to get a good loan. Doing my own investigative podcast research.” —Michael Joseph Spencer, Walnut Creek, California Bay Area
“The Child Victims Act report window is open for a year in New York State … Closing in August 2020. Am happy to partner in my off time with those working on such cases.” —Lisa Dowda, Rochester, NY
“Marketing creatively for cases that can be handled (at least in part) remotely, such as backgrounds (experienced), locates (experienced), and skip tracing (experienced). Because security services are deemed ‘essential employees’ we are strategizing ways to continue working in that arena as well.” —S.S., Greater Atlanta
How will you prepare yourself for future emergencies, or for the natural evolution of the industry?
Some respondents are working on new skills and certifications (e.g. digital forensics), learning new tech, and taking online courses. Several plan to focus on getting more computer-based, remote work in the door and hope to rely less on fieldwork in the future. Some said they’d taken or were planning to take Brian Willingham’s Open-Source Intelligence course. (Full disclosure: YES, we offer that course at PI Education.) A few are considering adding new services, such as security, and lots of business owners want to cut costs and put more cash into an emergency/rainy day fund. And several mentioned looking ahead to the kinds of cases that will emerge from this crisis (e.g. fraud, litigation, etc.)
“Diversify services offered. Invest in technologies that allow for remote work. Establish relationships with top tier law firms who undoubtedly continue to receive work during shutdowns.” —Steve Mason, Gilbert, Arizona
“NOBODY can ever anticipate something like this happening. However, the time to prepare for anything is way before it happens. So that means being able to work from home effectively, diversifying your work so it’s not focused on one area and constantly looking for new opportunities. I imagine that there will be a lot of litigation coming out of this crisis, which investigators can absolutely figure out to be a part of.” —Brian Willingham, Katonah, NY
“Building in a larger cash cushion is definitely priority #1. While we try to maintain about 6 weeks of operating capital in savings, I will be diligently working to build that up to 3 months of savings, and ultimately 6 months worth … Noah built the ark BEFORE the rain.” —Jason Attas, Waco, TX
“I have been preparing for a financial crisis for the last 7 years. I have three months of food and water, auxiliary power sources and a good self-defense capability.” —Tom Smith, Marion IA
“Having my firm handle litigation matters for attorneys and tax dodgers for municipalities give me a pretty strong recession proof model — as they say, you can’t avoid death and taxes.” —Stephanie Savoy, CT
“Expand into mitigation as a specialty and set up to be more productive remotely.” —Shafeqah Anderson, AL
What suggestions do you have for colleagues who are facing slowdowns and looking for new revenue streams? What can people do to adapt and prepare for the future?
These answers were similar to the ones above. Lots of folks mentioned networking, learning, pivoting to side hustles, and researching new revenue streams — with a little philosophy and prayer sprinkled in. Several cited the importance of staying in touch with colleagues and competitors, because so much repeat business comes by referral. Others went deeper, talking about empathy (listening to clients’ needs and fears), positivity, and viewing this time as an opportunity for pro bono work, personal growth, and a shift in personal priorities.
“Network with other industry professionals and various experts. A lot of leads and referrals come from experts who are in a different line of work, but service the same legal industry. Examples include accident reconstruction, computer forensics, business evaluators, etc.” —Steve Mason, Gilbert, AZ
“Scour the web for educational opportunities from other investigators with expertise you don’t have. Take a webinar from Cynthia Hetherington. Read a book by Larry Kaye or Kelly Riddle. Make connections on Linked In and via email to people you’d like to connect with. And consider taking a few days off, since we’re on a forced ‘staycation!’ Take a nap and walk the dogs, and get some exercise. We’ll be fine eventually.” —Mark Murnan, Palm Beach County, FL
“Hustle and train.” —Rock
“Take advantage of the time by learning a new skill; finding better tools to work from home or make your day-to-day life easier; or now that you have the time, start that blog / vlog / podcast / social media site and start testing out new ideas!” —Brian Willingham, Katonah, NY
“Buckle down and look to see where costs can be cut. Look at your skill set and see if you can use your skills to service another portion of the industry.” —Jason Barber, Southeast Wisconsin
“We are in a long-term slowdown, so look for clients who think long-term. Big civil cases and major felonies have a lot of research and study to be done. Meanwhile, figure how are you going to be in position to quickly ramp up when normalcy resumes.” —Michael Joseph Spencer, Walnut Creek, California Bay Area
“Diversify. Don’t depend on one income source. Have a second (or even third) source to supplement during times like this.” —MM, Colorado
“Cut expenses, business and personal. Offer to work with new clients on payments. Barter. Do pro bono cases if you’re able – people remember the good will and it pays for itself many times over.” —DG, Albuquerque
“Focus on how technology platforms are offering free learning skills, accept those and use the down time to practice what has become a new ‘norm’.” —Greg Garrett, Marina del Rey, CA
“Network. Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues to let them know you’re available. Network. Don’t let pride get in the way and ask for help or take that job you considered beneath you. Did I mention networking?” —iyÁská, Washington State
“Be sure to file for the special government grants, loans and unemployment or underemployment benefits.” —Tim Wooten, Winston-Salem, NC
“Go through every expense on every card or bank statement and brutally cut everything possible – I’ve downloaded all my data from my $200/mo TrackOps and cancelled, and will shortly cancel internet service for my office because I can access email via my cell. Already shut down HVAC for the building and cancelled car insurance for the process server vehicle.” —Kelly J, Delaware
“I would advise them to have a side business that provides an “essential” service. I understand that is a lot to ask and take on, but even one contract with a small medical facility is enough to make a big difference. We have to weather this storm, and hopefully when this is all over we can go back to business as usual.” —Brandon Brewster, West Virginia
No matter what type of investigations you do, keep your technology skills sharp. Know your database apps, keep sharp computer skills, hone your phone interview skills using google maps for accidents, etc. Be able to do digital work.” —BGC, Colorado Springs, CO
“Odd as it may sound, take this crisis as an avenue to staying aware and open minded. Use this time to learn that there is always a way to survive whatever life and our industry throws our way.” —JP, New York State
“Keep your head up and don’t stop marketing. We will get past this!” —Red Door Investigations, Ft Worth, TX
“Realize at some point this will end, that life over money is far more important!” —Joe Spadafore, CNY Investigation Bureau, Syracuse, NY