What should I expect when I hire a PI?
Most people never have needed, or considered hiring a Private Investigator - This page is intended to give you an idea of what to expect from the PI, and what he should be able to expect from you to produce the best results in the most economical way possible.
We often tell clients we spend their money as if it were our own, and this is very true. We don't want to charge you for time, mileage or activity that isn't necessary, or won't get you closer to the answers you want, but you as a client need to be prepared for contingencies that weren't expected or anticipated as well.
Here are some general tips on what to expect:
Private clients are a mixed bag. On one end of the spectrum, there is the wealthy client who just wants results, and doesn't care about the cost, and then on the other end of the spectrum, there is the woman who never worked outside the home whose husband just decided that life would be more exciting if he had an affair with his secretary. Both need the services of a PI, and both deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect and attentiveness by the PI. Private clients should expect to sign a contract, or a Professional Services Agreement, but it's not unusual for PIs to work without one in certain situations too. Clients should expect to pay a retainer in advance as a good faith deposit for the PI's time, services and expenses. The starting point for a retainer with Integral Investigations is generally no less than $1,000, and may be higher depending upon the scope of the case, and the time estimated to be involved. Other PIs may want a smaller retainer, and work on a pay-as-we-go arrangement. This provides protection for both the PI and the client. The details of your arrangement with a PI should be worked out ahead of time so no one has any false expectations.
What the Private Client Can Expect From the PI
The client should be reasonable, and concise in their expectations. They should be very specific as to what information they need the PI to objectively attempt to obtain within their budget. They can expect the PI to work in a legal and ethical manner, and shouldn't expect, or imply that he should ever do otherwise. They can expect the PI to work diligently in gathering the information that is desired. A PI will conduct the investigation based upon their own methods, expertise and experience, and should not be unnecessarily constrained by the client's ideas of how to proceed with an investigation. In many instances, the PI will know how to obtain facts and information in ways that the client may not be aware of, or have ever considered. The PI is a professional, that is why you hired him. Don't have false or "fantasy" expectations of HOW the investigation is to be conducted, or how the information is to be obtained. Hollywood has created a false image of the private investigator. The Rockford Files and Magnum PI were entertaining TV shows, but have little to do with reality.
A PI will establish clearly from the client, up front, what type of investigation is to be conducted. Typically, investigations are either: 1) COVERT, where the target or subject of the investigation does not, and is never to have any idea the investigation or surveillance is being conducted until it has been completed, and the client is ready to reveal the results; or 2) OVERT, where the purpose of the investigation and how it is being conducted is readily transparent and clear to the target(s) of it.
When it comes to expenses, the client should expect to pay all reasonable direct, out-of-pocket expenses like mileage and postage, in addition to the PI's normal hourly rate. These expenses can add up, especially in Iowa where there are many miles between towns. A PI might throw in some free time here and there as a favor, but don't expect him to absorb any direct, out-of-pocket expenses.
Once the stated objectives of an investigation have been met, and the investigation is concluded, the client can expect a detailed report in a timely manner, but only after the invoice has been paid in full. The report is the end product, and should be written in a professional, coherent and detailed manner, complete with photographic evidence. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the report should make the client feel that the PI performed due diligence in gathering the information for which he was retained.
The client needs to prepare for the possibility that their suspicions which lead to the hiring of the PI may not be warranted or prove true, or that the investigation may not produce the results or outcome that they wanted, or expected, based upon the facts the investigation itself reveals. Sometimes there are perfectly legitimate explanations for a spouse's behavior, or an employee's actions that the client has not (or doesn't want to) considered prior to the investigation being conducted. Conversely, clients need to be prepared for investigative results which show nefarious behavior by the target of the investigation, or others, that the client has not considered before as well. Remember, the PI has no vested interest in the outcome of an investigation, and makes no decisions or takes no action based upon the facts discovered, he merely investigates, observes and reports facts and observations for others to take action with.
Lastly, the client can expect the PI to treat any private information given to him be held in strict confidence. When it comes to finding a person for the client, the client should expect the PI to be very careful to make sure that the client means no harm to the missing person.
What the PI Can Expect From the Private Client
The PI can expect the client to clearly define the objective of the investigation, to be completely forthright with the PI about why they want the investigation, how they hope to utilize the information, and their involvement in the matter, no matter how unflattering it may be. The PI will also expect the client to pay a retainer before going to work.
The PI can expect the client not to interfere with the investigation in any way, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Especially in domestic cases, the client can be their own worst enemy. The very best way for the PI to get information is for nobody to know he is involved in the case and trying to obtain it. Repeatedly driving by the location of a surveillance, trying to "make things happen" through their influence or interaction with a target, and other attempts at "assisting" a PI can be disastrous to the investigation, and dangerous for all involved. Interference is grounds for termination of the case, and the client shouldn't expect a refund of their retainer, or any part of it, if this occurs.
The client shouldn't badger the PI with emails, calls or text messages requesting updates or information, or offering suggestions on how to do his job. These can be a huge distraction, and the PI can legitimately charge the client for having to take the time to deal with these distractions. In these extreme cases, the PI is perfectly justified in terminating the investigation at the client's expense.
Set an objective, and let the PI do his job. A PI will make regular reports of progress, but, only WHEN there is new information to report. Remember, you are not the only client the PI has at any particular point in time, and you may be interfering with his ability to assist another client with this type of contact.
Lastly, the PI has a right to expect that the client is not misrepresenting themselves, or their motives, reasons or authority for seeking the information requested. He can also expect the client to be completely forthcoming and open with the information provided to the PI, and not deliberately withhold any pertinent facts, details or documents from the PI, no matter how unflattering those details may be. The PI must know everything in order to be able to do for you what it is you hired him to accomplish, and to conduct himself safely and legally. He can also expect the client to use any information obtained and provided only in a legal and ethical way, and not place anyone in physical danger by their use of the information. The PI has to protect his license, which is the source of his livelihood. Any breach of trust in these areas is also grounds for immediate termination of the investigation, and forfeiture of any retainer paid.
It's really all about trust. A good case will develop from mutual trust between client and PI, and both will feel well served when it's over.