Much to the surprise of aspiring examiners, many states require us to have a license, more specifically a private investigator’s license. While at first it may sound cool to be a private eye, the novelty wears off quickly when you find out each state has its own, sometimes burdensome, requirements to obtain one.
***Note: The above picture was taken for my driver’s license at least 10 years ago, which is why I was so scraggly looking.***
Failing to have a license could have dire consequences. If you’re lucky, you’ll just get kicked off the case without pay. However, you could be charged with a felony in some states, be sued by your client to recover damages, and say goodbye to your career as an expert witness.
Unfortunately in Texas, getting a PI license has nothing to do with competency as a digital forensic examiner. If it did, that would be a good thing. Instead, it creates a very annoying trap for the unwary.
So how do you find out if you need a license for a particular investigation?
Avoid these 4 traps when researching whether you need a license in a particular state:
1. Making Assumptions
You might assume, for example, the specific task you are doing does not require a license because it isn’t traditional PI work. Or, you may think no license is required because you are working at the direction of an attorney. Unfortunately, states vary widely on these issues. Therefore, making assumptions is risky.
2. Relying on Untrustworthy Sources
It’s surprising how many examiners turn to Internet forums or email listservs to get legal advice. Well meaning examiners often provide contradictory answers based on experience in their own jurisdiction. When that happens, it is often a blessing in disguise as it is the first clue that forums and listservs are not a reliable source of legal advice or information.
3. Forgetting to Update Your Research
While researching for this blog post, I did a Google search for “Does a digital forensic examiner need a PI license in Illinois?” The first page of results clearly indicate that a PI license is required. In fact, one of the results hit on an article from a well-known global consulting firm that I would assume to be very reliable. Unfortunately, it’s outdated, and no one has bothered to remove or update it.
4. Not Following a Standard Research Methodology
I’m sure you’re aware that forensic examiners are supposed to follow industry best practices and standards. Well, lawyers doing legal research must also follow tried and true best practices or face a malpractice suit. It should go without saying, if you are trying to answer your own legal question, you should try to mimic the work of a lawyer.
In my next blog post, I’ll provide a step-by-step guide any examiner can use to answer the question, “Do I need a license to work in _____ state?” It will be based on the legal research methods lawyers learn in law school.
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