In very basic terms, an investigator looks into a case, determines whether a certain act has been committed, backs up his or her conclusion with evidence, and makes a report. Despite how simple it all sounds, an investigator needs a solid base of legal knowledge and certain skills to be successful. A certificate course can go a long way toward helping you prepare for work in one of the investigation areas covered below.

Criminal law cases

Criminal investigations can take many forms, including fraud, crime scene, sex crimes, theft, assault, homicide, kidnapping and criminal defense. Within those general groups, there are other specific investigation types, too. Fraud, for example, could involve insurance, corporate, identify theft, corporate fall, ticket and inventory. All of those scenarios may require different types of tools and investigation methods. While tools vary by case, many criminal investigators take crime scene photographs, analyze the crime scene, conduct witness and other interviews, identify evidence, and determine which type of testing is needed on that evidence.

Civil law applications

There is a wide variety of criminal investigation areas. In a personal injury case, the investigator is often tasked with evaluating how an injury happened so compensation can be determined. With worker’s compensation, he or she is looking for potential acts of fraud by a claimant. A worried family or friends may hire an investigator to search for a missing loved one. There are also wrongful death investigations, which include medical or malpractice, industrial accident/workplaces, product liability and accident. A creditor who receives a money judgment in court against someone else may hire an investigator to determine which assets that debtor has that the creditor can seize to recover the money they are owed.

Civil investigations often start off with a case analysis, and the investigator meets with the person requesting the investigation to find out what it entails. As with criminal cases, the tools an investigator needs will vary for a civil case and may include background checks, surveillance, asset searches, examination of witnesses, and forensic methods.

Family law investigations

Investigators in family law may be asked to look into issues for divorce, abuse, domestic violence, child custody cases, and other related matters. If a person believes his or her spouse is cheating, for example, and needs proof, the investigator can do surveillance on the cheating spouse and try to catch her or him in the act or search the cheater’s electronic devices using forensic computer tools for evidence of an affair. In a divorce, the investigator may be directed to search for hidden assets or gather the facts about the parent-child relationship to help settle a custody dispute.

Trial preparation

Attorneys do use the services of investigators to help shore up weak areas in their cases. While what the investigator is asked to do will vary by case, it may include computer forensics, witness location, background checks, identification of new potential witnesses, asset searches, financial research and surveillance.

Once you have your legal investigation certificate, there are many different areas of law you can go into depending on your strengths and interests. You can chose to focus on just one area of law, such as family cases, or you can opt to perform a variety of different investigations. Whatever you decide, your newly developed skills and knowledge will help guide you down the road to success.