Assume Nothing, Question Everything

I had a long conversation with a client (now a former client) the other day, and I came away pretty angry.

I backed out of the project after I learned of the client’s intentions and realized that I would have to float in the proverbial grey area in order to do the work for this client.

As I told the client, and as I have said here numerous times before, even a whiff of any unscrupulous behavior might undermine a client’s best interests, my reputation and my license. The client didn’t particularly care about his best interests; he wanted the information, and from what I could tell, he wanted it pretty much at any cost.

But what really incensed me was that he couldn’t care less about my reputation or my license. Flabbergasted that I wouldn’t do anything that could harm my reputation and ultimately my license, the client replied, “But we aren’t doing anything illegal.”

Not exactly the kind of client I want on my roster.

“You signed an engagement letter and we paid you a retainer and you have to fulfill your end of the bargain,” the client told me. I am not a hired hitman. And I am not required to do whatever someone tells me. I nicely told him that the retainer engagement had been ripped up and the retainer check (which I had still not received) would be returned in full — despite the fact that I had spent most of my weekend on the project.

I had accepted the job, in part, because I was blinded by the fact that this would have been a massive project that could have lasted for months, a luxury that doesn’t come around that often in my business.

While I was angry at the client, I am most angry at myself for letting it get to this point.

I had been introduced to this client by a person I do a lot of work for, and based on my discussions with the person who referred the case, I assumed I knew the client’s intentions. It was not until the 11th hour, after pressing the client, that I ultimately got the information I should have learned days before, which turned everything upside down.

One of my mantras is “assume nothing, question everything.” Assumptions are the mothers of all evils. Many people’s assumptions sound like “the grass is greener on the other side,” “it will not happen to me,” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,”

In my business, it’s more like “they would never do that!” or “you are probably not going to find anything” or “they won’t talk to you.”

Proving that assumptions are wrong is part of what I do for a living.

But in this case, I didn’t follow my own advice.

I assumed.

And it cost me.

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11 replies
  1. Sound Private Investigations Specialists
    Sound Private Investigations Specialists says:

    We have come across similar situations where clients don’t respect or care that we have a reputation that we need to uphold, and some think the law doesn’t apply to them. A few months back, we obtained a case where a mother hired us to follow her ex-husband while he had their children in order to ensure their welfare. We couldn’t find him doing anything concerning, and the children welfare was never endangered. The client wasn’t happy with our findings and tried to pressure us with scare tactics to fabricate evidences suggesting otherwise. We chose to remove ourselves from the case before it could take a turn for the worst. After that incident we have made sure that we educate our clients before taking on a case on how an investigator in our state is allowed to function with in the law, and that we will not dive into any grey area risking our license and reputation just because they want us to.

    With that being said, in situations like these all you can do is walk away and hope for the best. In the end whats worth more, some extra cash or your livelihood?

  2. Daniel Scharfenberg
    Daniel Scharfenberg says:

    Brian, I just started reading your articles and have instantly become a fan. I read your blog about not necessarily needing previous law enforcement experience to be a quality investigator, and it definitely gave me some encouragement. I am 26, live in Ontario and have had my PI license for 10 months now. I still have not been able to find steady work as a PI. Almost every company in Ontario asks for previous law enforcement or PI experience before they will hire , so I have thus far had to settle for working as a security guard. Do you have any advice on how a young professional can get into this industry? I have a diploma in Private InvestigationThanks

  3. John Penny
    John Penny says:

    Good reminder of the basics, one truism that I find very helpful as a filter, There’s never a right way to do a wrong thing!

  4. Anonymous PI
    Anonymous PI says:

    My personal rule of thumb these days (apart from when I don’t listen to my own advice) is: “My clients don’t care about me so I don’t really have to care about my clients”

    I know, that kind of makes me sound like a douchenozzle but rarely am I the bad guy in this scenario.

    What I really mean is that you have to look out for your own interests before that of others.

    And, having said that, I’ve just been burned again by not doing so…

  5. Christine Leonhardt
    Christine Leonhardt says:

    Brian~ no one is perfect, and no case is easy..but with your expertise, experience and skills..it may have cost you- but you did know where the hoodwink came in..and after pressing the client, you ultimately got the information that should have learned days before, which turned everything upside down. Sometimes the pressure of things being introduced to this client by a person you did a lot of work for..& then client’s intentions and realizing that you would have to float in the proverbial grey area in order to do the work for this client…not to mention as you said- this person cared less on your reputation and not to mention your license..Where you may not have followed your own advice, nonetheless- you are caring on your own reputation – limits and boundaries. Still keeping you the Awesome Private Investigator and Awesome Individual that you are.

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