How legal professionals can achieve powerful results with professional investigators

Our working-with partner, ABI, explores the growing trend of lawyers working with professional investigators and highlights the benefits, challenges and ethical considerations involved in this collaborative approach.
A woman looks at a computer screen, the screen reflects on the lenses of her glasses.
Photograph: Laurence Dutton

More lawyers and professional investigators are working together than ever before.

Lawyers in the UK have recognised the added value that professional investigators bring to their cases, enabling them to achieve more effective outcomes for their clients.

In addition to gathering evidence, lawyers are increasingly partnering with investigators in many areas, for example, to:

  • trace hidden assets
  • conduct corporate investigations
  • investigate cyber fraud
  • implement anti-money laundering (AML) techniques

What do professional investigators do?

Professional investigators play a crucial role in the legal process by gathering evidence, verifying facts and conducting thorough investigations.

They possess specialised skills, knowledge and access to resources that enable them to delve deeper into the details of a case.

Investigators are adept at conducting interviews, conducting surveillance, analysing documents and employing other investigative techniques to uncover critical information.

There are many benefits to working with a professional investigator:

1. Enhanced information gathering

Lawyers often lack the time, resources, or expertise to conduct extensive investigations themselves.

By partnering with professional investigators, they can tap into their specialised skills and knowledge, enabling them to gather more comprehensive and accurate information relevant to a case.

2. Increased efficiency

Collaboration between lawyers and investigators can expedite the legal process.

Investigators can quickly locate witnesses, gather evidence, and identify potential leads, allowing lawyers to focus on legal strategy and representation

3. Strengthened case preparation

Professional investigators bring a fresh perspective to legal cases.

They can identify potential weaknesses in the opposing party's arguments, conduct background checks and help lawyers build a stronger and more compelling case for their clients.

4. Expert evidence support

Investigators can also assist lawyers by providing expert evidence in court.

Their experience and knowledge of investigative techniques can lend credibility to the evidence presented, thereby bolstering the lawyer's argument.

How can professional investigators help legal professionals?

Professional investigators can bring value to the work of lawyers in many ways, but typically work alongside them in the following three ways.

Tracing hidden assets

This is a critical aspect of many legal cases, such as divorce proceedings, fraud investigations and debt recovery.

Professional investigators can navigate complex financial structures, follow money trails, and identify assets concealed or transferred to evade detection.

Take for example in a creditor/debtor case scenario.

Debtors may use various tactics to hide their assets from creditors, including transferring ownership of assets to third parties, concealing assets, or undervaluing assets.

Investigators can uncover hidden assets by unravelling the methods that debtors can hide assets. Debtors may:

  • transfer ownership of assets to family members or friends with the intention of hiding them from creditors. This can be done through a gift, sale, or other legal transaction
  • create a shell company or trust to hold assets on their behalf, making it difficult for creditors to identify and seize those assets
  • undervalue assets or conceal them altogether, such as by failing to disclose bank accounts, investments, or properties
  • move assets offshore to jurisdictions with more lenient laws around debt collection, or to countries with greater banking secrecy

By working in tandem with lawyers, investigators can help establish the true extent of a person's wealth and ensure fair distribution or recovery of assets in legal proceedings.

Corporate investigations

These investigations involve delving into the activities of companies or organisations to uncover potential misconduct, fraud or regulatory non-compliance.

Professional investigators specialise in conducting comprehensive corporate investigations, examining financial records, analysing business practices and identifying any illicit activities.

These investigations can be initiated by the company itself, regulators or law enforcement agencies.

The goal of a corporate investigation is to identify and address any issues that may be impacting the company's operations, reputation and legal compliance.

They can identify:

  • financial irregularities, such as fraud, embezzlement, or money laundering
  • whether a company is complying with all applicable laws and regulations
  • misconduct by employees, such as harassment, discrimination, or theft
  • infringements of a company's intellectual property, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
  • red flags in other companies or individuals before a company enters into business with them

In corporate investigations, lawyers and investigators can combine their expertise to build strong cases against corporate wrongdoers, protect the interests of stakeholders and seek appropriate remedies through litigation or regulatory actions.

AML techniques

In an era of global financial interconnectedness, combating money laundering has become a top priority for legal professionals.

Lawyers are increasingly relying on professional investigators to identify and prevent money laundering activities.

Investigators utilise various methods, including transaction monitoring, due diligence checks, and suspicious activity reporting, to detect and investigate potential money laundering schemes.

Take for example cuckoo smurfing, a sophisticated but lesser-known money laundering technique used to move illicit funds across borders while disguising their origin.

This method takes advantage of an existing banking practice known as the "smurfing" or "structuring" technique, wherein large sums of money are divided into smaller amounts to avoid suspicion from law enforcement.

By collaborating with investigators skilled in AML techniques, lawyers can ensure regulatory compliance and protect their clients from legal and reputational risks.

What to consider when hiring a professional investigator

The benefits of collaborating on these specialised areas are numerous.

Lawyers gain access to investigators' expertise in financial analysis, asset tracing and AML techniques, enabling them to build stronger cases, develop effective legal strategies and protect their clients' interests.

Investigators, on the other hand, benefit from lawyers' legal knowledge and guidance in navigating the intricacies of the judicial system.

However, there are also challenges and ethical matters to consider:

1. Confidentiality

Lawyers must ensure that any collaboration with investigators does not breach client confidentiality.

Choosing an investigator with strong communication skills and who adheres to legal and ethical guidelines is essential to maintain the privacy and trust of clients.

2. Ethical boundaries

Lawyers must be mindful of the ethical boundaries when working with investigators.

They should ensure that investigators gather evidence lawfully and ethically, avoiding any improper or illegal activities.

3. Cost considerations

Collaborating with professional investigators may incur additional costs for clients.

Lawyers should transparently communicate these costs and ensure that they align with the client's budget and expectations.

Lawyers and investigators must adhere to legal and ethical standards, ensuring that all investigative techniques are lawful, transparent and respect the privacy rights of individuals involved.

Find out more about ABI
The Association of British Investigators (ABI) is the UK’s leading authority and thought leader on all matters relating to the investigation industry, and is a working with partner of the Law Society.

Find out more about ABI's work.

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