Below is a short list of services that private investigators can provide to law firms.

Even with all this, there are hundreds of other things that can be added. For the sake of brevity, we’ve narrowed down that list to 44 things.

Ultimately, private investigators find “information” or “facts,” but that’s not nearly as entertaining as #44 on our list: “Tell you what those bastards are up to!”

1Find a current address or former addresses

2Determine date of birth, known aliases and/or Social Security number

3Locate birth, death, marriage and/or divorce filings

4Locate a beneficiary for a probate proceeding

5Unearth information someone is trying to keep hidden

6Research current and/or historical property holdings and market value

7Locate bankruptcy records, judgments, liens and Uniform Commercial Code filings

8Help you manage sensitive situations

9Locate, retrieve and analyze local, state and federal civil and criminal lawsuits

10Identify and obtain copies of police reports, arrest records and mugshots

11Provide independent analysis

12Locate up-to-date contact information and phone numbers

13Identify the owner of a home or cell phone number

14Identify business affiliations and retrieve and analyze corporate records

15Identify and scrutinize employment and education histories

16Locate and interview current or former employees or executives

17Dig up dirt on opposing parties

18Research family history

19Locate and interview witnesses or interested parties for a civil or criminal lawsuit

20Locate and search for hidden (and not-so-hidden) assets

21Perform discreet intelligence gathering

22Identify undisclosed relationships between parties

23Dig through someone’s trash

24Provide peace of mind

25Follow people

26Dig up current or historical boat, aircraft or motor vehicle registrations

27Uncover hard-to-find facts

28Conduct business intelligence

29Locate wills, estates and probate records

30Find the skeletons hiding in the closet

31Identify and review regulatory records, professional license information and disciplinary history

32Determine the motivation behind a party

33Vet expert witnesses

34Find people

35Obtain driving record history and motor vehicle information (in applicable states)

36Assist with jury selection

37Give you a competitive advantage

38Analyze documents for potential fraud

39Perform clandestine operations

40Analyze social media presence

41Research historical archives

42Make you look brilliant

43Connect the dots

44Tell you what those bastards are up to!

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Many people working in the investigative business share a pervasive trait: they hoard “secrets.” I guess it’s pretty common in most businesses. I assume they think they would lose their “edge” if they gave away their secrets.

The truth is that most secrets are not really secrets at all. As one of the great 17th-century playwrights, Jean Racine, so eloquently put it, “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”

So before time reveals my secrets, here are a few investigative tools every lawyer should know about.

Domain Tools

With a little know-how and in about 18 minutes, anyone can set up a website and start publishing just about anything. But getting a handle on the individuals who are behind the website can be challenging. The simplest way is to look in the WhoIs.net directory to see who the current registrant/administrator is. The directory can provide a wealth of information, such as the email address and contact information for the person who is behind the website.

But it’s not always that easy. Many websites are now set up with a private or proxy domain registration, especially when the registrant is trying to hide acts of wrongdoing. While you may need to jump through enormous legal hoops to uncover the site owner’s identity, there may be an easier way.

Although the Whois directory will give you the current registrant, Domain Tools will give you the entire history regarding who registered the domain going back many years. So if the domain was owned by an individual and then transferred into a proxy service, you just might have struck gold.


The Web is a living and breathing thing. It constantly changes. So what might be published on a website one day may be gone the next–never to be seen again. WhileGoogle may cache the most recent version of the page, it doesn’t save it forever.

That’s where Archive.org comes in. Archive.org not only provides a vast digital archive of various collections, but it also keeps an archive of the Web, with over 150 billion page captures.

Archive.org’s Wayback Machine can be used to see what previous versions of websites looked like or to visit websites that no longer exist. This can come in handy if you ever need to show that a website was publishing copyrighted materials, identify former executives of the company or gather information about a website that has been taken down.


Who is this person? Where do they live? Have they been involved in a legal mess? What skeletons do they have in their closets? These are just some of the core questions that come up on a daily basis for a lawyer trying to track down an individual.

That’s where TLOxp comes in. TLOxp for legal professionals provides access to billions of public and proprietary records to locate people, assets and critical details such as criminal histories and phone numbers. It is an essential tool that should not be overlooked.


You’re probably saying to yourself, “Every first-year law student knows about LexisNexis and Westlaw.” It’s true. LexisNexis and Westlaw are essential tools for every lawyer, especially when it comes to researching case law.

But what many lawyers don’t know is that they also have one of the largest repositories of public and proprietary information on people and businesses. Most law firms don’t subscribe to that part of the LexisNexis and Westlaw databases because it’s pretty cost-prohibitive if you’re not using it on a daily basis.

In addition to their vast repository of public records about matters such as criminal histories, civil litigation, property records and other public records, these databases have one of the single largest collections of historical news.

Facebook Open Graph

Whether you are selecting a jury, trying to uncover information about a key witness or just trying to determine the connections a person has to others, social media has become a vital tool.

While there are hundreds of social networks to mine for information, Facebook has easily become the market leader, with more than 1 billion registered users. Your research can be as easy as typing a name into the search box, but Facebook also has extremely powerful tools you might not know about.

In 2012, Facebook introduced the Facebook Open Graph, allowing you to mine public profiles on Facebook to find literally anything. Although Facebook has retracted some of those functions, some interesting tools have emerged, like the Facebook search tool from Intelligence Recruitment Software.

So if you want to find former employees who worked at a McDonald’s in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or patrons who visited a restaurant on the same day as a slip and fall occurred, you can do that. Keep in mind, however, that you are only searching public information and that there are some ethical implications if you “friend” someone you are researching.


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In today’s information age, the clichéd old-school private detective has dropped their fedora and library card and turned to the Internet and investigative databases to gather intelligence.

Although this approach has tremendous value for its speed, cost effectiveness and ability to broadly search a wide variety of records, relying on the Internet and database records has exposed inconsistent and erroneous information.

We have found the most effective and thorough way to gather intelligence is to utilize a multi-pronged investigative approach. The key to this investigative approach is to identify mutually supporting information from various disparate sources to gather a more accurate, comprehensive and complete picture.

Three-Pronged Approach

As noted in the diagram above, we utilize three distinct approaches to gather information:

  • Online Sources: Proprietary databases and online sources offer a quick, easy and cost effective way to aggregate information.
  • Source-Based Information: Online sources are quick and easy, but if you want to obtain more in-depth information on facts and information, there’s no better place to go than the source.
  • “Human” Intelligence: Includes information which may not be obtained elsewhere including from interviews, surveillance or dumpster diving.

Each approach provides its own benefits and risks, but when used collaboratively, they provide the best opportunity to uncover critical information.

Examples of This Investigative Approach Uncovering Critical Information

  • A review of state securities regulators records disclosed that a candidate at an international investment bank was the subject of an ongoing criminal probe in South America. This information was not available through FINRA’s BrokerCheck system which is available on the Internet.
  • Database searches through criminal record repositories and database records did not identify any criminal record information on the subject of a background investigation, but a review of records at the local courthouse disclosed that the individual had been previously arrested for battery.  The record was not identified through other sources because the name was misspelled when the court provided the information to the outside sources and database providers.
  • An investigation into one of the main principals of an acquisition target did not identify any risk-relevant issues in open-source records, but interviews with former employees disclosed that two former secretaries had previously made allegations of sexual misconduct.  These allegations did not show up in the public record because charges had not been formally filed.
  • Four days of surveillance did not reveal any activity for an individual who was allegedly disabled and unable to work, but additional research identified that the individual had set up a corporation in New York and research later disclosed that the individual was running an Internet consulting business out of their house.

There Is No “One-Size Fits All” Approach

This investigative approach does not detract from the value of the information obtained from any one of the three distinct areas. In fact, in certain cases, using only one of the three approaches may be the most effective route to accomplishing the case objective.  However, using this three-pronged approach gives a private detective multiple weapons to identify fact-based information and overcomes potential problems and/or risks which may be inherent in only focusing on one area of investigation.

Final Thought

This is not a ground-breaking approach, but in today’s Internet age people tend to rely too much on quick and easy solutions.

For any private detective, gathering as much intelligence and information as you can from various sources can ultimately lead to making better decisions and ultimately reaching the client’s case objective.

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