As the name suggests, a legal investigator works for a law firm in the capacity of helping attorneys prepare their cases for trial. These people gather the facts in a situation which will be needed by the attorneys to present their case at trial, pre-trial, mediation and/or arbitration. The work done by the legal investigator in preparing a case for trial is indispensable to the competent and successful trial attorney, as evidenced by the fact that most law firms of any size throughout the country employ one or more legal investigators, either as staff employees or as independent investigators on a contract basis.
The good news is that there is no set educational background to the profession. Some may be former law school students, paralegals, political science graduates, journalism majors or criminal justice grads-to name a few. The most common degrees are criminal justice and political science. Here’s a look at typical courses in both of these programs:
- The American Criminal Justice System- Examination of criminal justice agencies operating as an interacting system: police and security agencies, courts, and corrections.
- Nature of Crime and Justice- A multidisciplinary survey of theories of crime causation and social control
- Introduction to Courts and the Legal System- Examines state and federal American court systems
- Managing Criminal Justice Organizations- Examines bureaucratic, political and other characteristics of justice organizations through a review of theories of public administration and organizational behavior
- Introduction to Forensic Science- Expose students to the nature of physical evidence and its part in our criminal justice system
- Trial and Evidence- Issues and problems of proof in civil and criminal trials, admissibility, examining witnesses, constitutional considerations, and exclusionary rules
- Ethics and Diversity in Criminal Justice- Specific cultural and ethical issues and problems associated with law enforcement, corrections, and the courts
- Criminal Law, Procedure and Court Processes- Provide the student with an understanding of criminal law, procedure, and the court processes. The elements of offenses as well as defenses, constitutional and others, and processes from detention, arrest, pre-trial, trial and post-trial will be analyzed.
- Government and Politics- Major institutions of modern government and processes of individual and group political activity
- Comparative Government- Political institutions and processes in selected foreign governments
- Composition- Emphasizes strategies of academic discourse
- Empirical Political Inquiry- Logic of political inquiry, including research problems, concepts, theories, and analysis
- Political Ideologies- Leading political ideas and beliefs systems, e.g., Marxism, liberalism, conservatism, and theories of democracy
As you can see from the political science bachelor’s degree program, the courses concentrate on the political system. Graduates in this degree will have attained the analytical skills essential in many professions. Thereby making opportunities available in administrative positions in local, state, and federal government, or in public and private agencies; work with citizen’s action groups and voluntary organizations; employment in the foreign service and various governmental and private international agencies; and careers as teachers and policy analysts. Legal investigator may be inserted into this array of professions, however, it seems as if investigating lends itself more to the realm of criminal justice.
According to the site for the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI), “the legal investigator functions most often in personal injury cases, where his or her job is to determine the responsibility for what happened, and in the defense of criminal cases, where the presence of a legal investigator affords the accused defendant the constitutional rights and guarantees to which he is entitled.” Opportunities in the field of legal investigation have steadily increased since formal approval of the use of lay legal assistants by lawyers in 1969 by the American Bar Association in Opinion 316.
The site PayScale reported in December 2014 that the national average for private detectives and investigators was $49,000. The profession’s pay ranges from $30,000 to $105,000. An investigator’s annual salary is directly proportional with the years of experience; those with the most experience typically garner the highest wage.