Death of the Private Investigator

Oct 31, 2011

For several months now, I’ve seen growing concerns from investigators across the United States regarding the direction of private investigations. These concerns have been raised perhaps as a result of the economy, privacy laws, and even national investigative agencies.

Let’s assume for a moment that those concerns are valid and the scope of the investigations work as we know it will soon be gone and will never be the same. Assume that the private investigator will even cease to exist, as many concerns have been expressed. Does that mean that society simply has no use for the services that investigators provide? Let’s examine the role of the private investigator.

At its core, the private investigator is an information locator and gatherer. The right type of information can be very valuable and powerful to the client. Information therefore is the key to the value a private investigator has to his/her client. However, most clients are becoming more demanding with the information they want. No longer is it enough to provide a client with information simply to satisfy the client’s curiosity. Most clients of the private investigator are looking for a PI because they need information for a current legal action, a pending legal action, or to minimize the possibility of a future legal action. Private investigators must make sure that the information they provide to their clients can withstand legal scrutiny if need be. The investigator who can obtain valuable legally and ethically obtained information will continue to be in demand regardless of outside factors driving the profession. We are, after all, in the information age.

So what should the private investigator do to not only survive, but perhaps thrive in the coming years and even decades? A good start is for us to change our mindset of who we all are. Rather than private investigators, we should look at ourselves as professional investigators, or professional private investigators. The private investigations field will continue to bring never-ending changes. Some changes will be better than others. Some changes should and will be challenged.  Today’s investigator must be willing to embrace the challenges of the changing scope of investigations. For the changes that are inevitable, the successful investigator must be willing to embrace or at the minimum adjust expeditiously to those as well.

Today’s successful investigator must be not only an investigative professional, but a business professional. Being well-versed in business and marketing practices is critical. Many clients, including the private clientele involved in domestic matters, are seeking out investigative firms with a more professional, corporate look and feel. Every facet of the investigator is scrutinized by the client, from the website to the equipment to the knowledge of laws. Even the style of dress is scrutinized. Clients are moving away from choosing investigators with websites containing scandalous, salacious photos of couples “caught in the act” or websites filled with assertions that the investigator is willing to “dig for dirt.” Investigators who maintain a professional demeanor will have a competitive advantage in today’s world.

So are we all witnessing the death of the private investigator? That is unlikely. Rather, I believe that private investigations will continue to evolve and is constantly progressing more and more towards a professional field. For those who already view and hold themselves as professionals, the evolution should be manageable and even welcoming.