Becoming a Legal Investigator

The justice system is dependent on cold, hard evidence. Legal investigators are the professionals called upon to ensure that both prosecuting and defense attorneys have all pertinent information, including records, documents, and witness testimony, at their disposal when making their case, whether in civil or criminal courts.

All information and evidence must advance legal theories so as to benefit their client’s case. Due to time constraints, lawyers often rely on a team of professionals to gather the information and documents needed for the case, with legal investigators being an integral part of that team. Legal investigators perform a number of essential duties for both defense and prosecuting teams, all of which require a sharp mind, solid researching skills, excellent oral and written communication skills, and astute investigative skills.

Legal Investigator Job Description

These investigative professionals, throughout the course of any given day, may be responsible for preparing court records and other legal documents, testifying in court, and interviewing witnesses. Legal investigators often work in fast-paced environments that require excellent organizational skills and an ability to prioritize and complete tasks in a timely manner. Just a few of the duties of legal investigators include:

  • Preparing, serving and filing legal documents, such as affidavits, appeals, contracts, briefs, wills, real estate closings, etc.
  • Researching legal models
  • Locating and interviewing witnesses and parties
  • Obtaining and examining evidence
  • Verifying existing evidence
  • Gathering and analyzing research data, including legal codes, documents, and articles
  • Preparing evidence and exhibits for trail
  • Reconstructing crime scenes
  • Conducting research for lawyers initiating legal action, supporting legal proceedings, and devising defense strategies
  • Filing pleadings with court clerks

Through research and investigation, legal investigators provide lawyers with information that is both pertinent and accurate. Legal investigators must have a deep understanding of the rules of evidence, and they must ensure that all evidence is gathered according to the law and that their findings remain objective at all times.

Legal investigators may work directly for a law firm, attorney, public defender or district attorney, or they may provide their services on a contract basis.

Preparing to Become a Legal Investigator: Education and State Certification

A legal investigator is an interdisciplinary profession, as these professionals must have excellent investigative skills and a solid understanding of the law, as well as the criminal and civil justice systems.

Although there is no clear-cut path to a career as a legal investigator, most employers require a four-year degree in criminal justice, political science, or a related field, as well as coursework in the legal system.

Coursework often pursued by individuals seeking to pursue legal investigator jobs include: legal terminology, legal ethics, civil litigation, criminal litigation, legal research, and investigative techniques.

A comprehensive education, through a bachelor’s or graduate degree in criminal justice, should include the following:

  • Legal and ethical considerations for the legal investigator
  • An introduction to the legal system and the proper service of the legal process
  • General interviewing and investigation techniques
  • Sources of leads and information
  • Taking witness statements
  • Surveillance techniques
  • Fact analysis
  • Document analysis and control
  • Testimony and case studies

According to the National Association of Legal Investigators, legal investigators must have knowledge in:

  • Statutory and case law
  • Local rules of court
  • Civil procedure
  • Forensic sciences
  • Techniques of evidence collection
  • Evidence preservation
  • Evidence admissibility

Beyond a degree, most states require legal investigators to be licensed private investigators. Although state requirements to become a licensed private investigator differ from one state to the next, most states require minimum education and experience for private investigator candidates. Further, some states require passing a written examination.

Professional Certification for Legal Investigators

Legal investigators often pursue professional certification as to distinguish themselves in this highly competitive field. For example, many legal investigators pursue the Certified Legal Investigator certification National Association of Legal Investigators.

The National Association of Legal Investigators sets national certification standards for legal investigators and grants national certification to those individuals who meet professional requirements and who successfully pass written and oral examinations and complete a 1,000-word research paper. Legal investigators who hold the credential of Certified Legal Investigator must complete continuing education credits to maintain their designation.

Only those legal investigators who: (a) are licensed (if required) to practice; and (b) have at least 5 years of verifiable work experience as a full-time legal investigator (60 semester hours of education at an accredited college or university may be substituted for one year of experience) are qualified to begin the Certified Legal Investigator program.

Salary Statistics and Forecasts for Legal Investigators

According to a 2011 salary survey conducted by the National Organization of Bar Counsel, which included solicited responses from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the average salary for a legal investigator was $61,209. The maximum salary in this field, according to the survey, was $123,701.

The survey also found that legal investigators in the eastern region of the county earned an average salary of $73,089; legal investigators in the country’s southern region earned an average salary of $47,663; legal investigators in the western region earned an average salary of $61,442; and legal investigators in the central region earned an average salary of $59,698.

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