A legal investigator provides surveillance, research and investigative services to the public, law firms, insurance companies, banks, financial institutions and even local law enforcement agencies. They use a variety of tools and methods to uncover facts about personal, financial and legal matters. This type of investigator can work a wide variety of cases, from fact-finding for a child custody dispute for a family law firm to uncovering fraud in a large corporation. Some investigators are self-employed, while others work for businesses as a specialist.

This career can be quite rewarding for a person who is good at paying attention to detail and analyzing evidence, but it can be difficult to know how exactly to begin. While no formal education is required for a legal investigator, there are things you can do to increase your chances of being successful in your new career.

Take a certificate course

With a solid legal investigator certificate course, you can learn all the fundamentals of legal investigations. A comprehensive course will discuss legal terminology and ethics, go over the elements of contract and tort law and the rules of civil procedure, and prepare you for interviewing witnesses and clients. You should also receive demonstrations on how to conduct all phases of a legal investigation, such as fact gathering, evidence gathering and client and witness statement taking. In addition, you’ll learn about the proper handling of evidence and explore legal research methods. It’s also helpful if the certificate course covers how to get started in a freelance legal investigation business; you may need to handle cases on your own at first for experience even if you intend to get hired somewhere permanently.

Earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree

In addition to a specialized certificate course, some legal investigators also receive a degree from a college or university, usually one in the legal or criminal justice field. Taking foreign language and computer classes can also help improve your case skills and your desirability to people who are looking for investigative services.

How long does it take?

The length of time it takes to become a legal investigator varies by person. If you decide to earn a degree and a certificate before entering the field, it will take at least two to four years depending on whether you’re in school full-time or part-time. A certificate course alone takes less time, anywhere from 30 days to seven weeks depending on the format. Some institutes offer certificate classes in different formats, such as text, DVD and online, to accommodate the various scheduling and access needs of students.

You should consider extra training to increase your skill set for the job and expand the types of positions for which you are suitable. Legal investigators on a criminal case, for example, may need to photograph a crime scene, so photography classes could help you learn how to produce better and clearer images. When an investigator prepares exhibits for a court case, it is helpful if he or she knows how to use tech photo and editing tools to make the exhibits appear more professional and also make them easier for jurors and the judge to see and/or understand.

The world of legal investigation can be rewarding and stimulating, and it could be the right career path for you. Consider taking the next step toward laying down the foundation of your investigative career today.