The words “private investigator” often conjure romanticized images of dark alleys, late night stakeouts, and brooding eyes peering out between a fedora brim and a trench coat collar. But how closely do our imaginings match the everyday realities of working as a private investigator? We sat down with Don Fritsch, a licensed private investigator and President of First Legal Investigations to find out!
What are some misconceptions about what you do?
When you tell someone you’re a private investigator, they assume you spend your days following cheating wives and husbands. But, we typically stay away from that. When there is a need for our clients to know something they can’t figure out, we’re the team to call because we’ll get to the bottom of it and figure out what it is they’re looking for, even when they’re not certain themselves.
Do you need a license to be a private investigator?
Yes. In California, the Private Investigator Act commencing with Business and Professions Code Chapter 11.3 - § 7520 specifies: “No person shall engage in a business regulated by this chapter; act or assume to act as, or represent himself or herself to be, a licensee unless he or she is licensed under this chapter; and no person shall falsely represent that he or she is employed by a licensee.” If a law firm hires an individual, other than a W2 employee of that firm, to investigate someone’s background or whereabouts, it is particularly important that the firm hires a licensed private investigator in accordance with their governing state’s laws. Otherwise, the evidentiary value of information uncovered by an unlicensed investigator could be ruled inadmissible; thereby, compromising their client’s entire case. A lawyer should avoid this possibility altogether by hiring only a licensed PI.
How did you get started as a private investigator?
I got started when I was young, 19-years-old actually. I was very interested in law enforcement. At the time, I was testing for a position with the Sheriff's office. I had a family friend who was an investigator. He was a former Army Intelligence Agent, who got into PI work in the 1950s. Unfortunately, Bo developed terminal kidney cancer and, for whatever reason, he asked if I would be interested in training for a career in the field. In 1984, that’s exactly what I did. I acquired 6,000 hours of experience over 3 years, which qualified me to sit for my PI test in California. I earned my California PI license at 23; then I opened the phone book and started calling on law firms in conjunction with leveraging the handful of client relationships I had at the time and started to build a client base. I went on to earn my other PI licenses in Nevada and Arizona. I’ve been doing this job for 33 years now. I am blessed to lead a team like the one we have developed over the years at First Legal.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
That’s a tough question because there have been so many phases of my career. I would say that I’m a competitive kind of guy. I’m driven and motivated. I work very hard and somewhere along the way I finally figured out how to work smart. The thing that I love the most about what I do now is being able to help the client figure out what they need. Sometimes clients come in and they already know, but sometimes they’re not sure. Either way, I’m able to point them in the right direction, and together, we build one hell of a strong case. I like having the experience and the knowledge to know what the client needs.
To speak specifically about some of your work at First Legal, would you be able to give an example of one of the services we provide?
Sure! Part of our job involves skip-tracing. As a company, we serve about 800-900 process documents in a day. What may start as a routine service of process can quickly become more complicated. For example, the person may no longer reside at the address the client gave us. Of course, you still need to serve the person even when the address is no longer good, so the location of that person is handed over to our Investigations team. Additionally, you have individuals who try to evade service, which, of course, is futile when we are retained to handle the assignment and given an appropriate budget. We simply get the job done. In this manner, we support Court & Process when there is difficulty in the arena of service of process. We also use skip-tracing for missing heir searches and other related avenues.
Do you need a license to perform skip-tracing?
Actually, skip-tracing itself doesn’t require a license or even a formalized set of qualifications. With skip-tracing, experience is really the measure of quality. At First Legal, we handle thousands of cases every year. In addition to our main office, we have 7 branch offices in California and additional offices in Nevada and Arizona. We maintain experienced investigators that cover a wide geographical area and have the capacity to tactically coordinate on assignments when required.
For our last question, what do you wish more people knew about the work that you do?
I think, in general, clients sometimes believe there’s a magic button to get the information they’re looking for within a few hours or the next day. It’s just a matter of understanding how long the work can take. For example, an extensive background search will take about 7 to 10 days to do the right way. We know it’s important to move quickly, but we don’t compromise the integrity of what we’re doing. When we put together a report, we feel comfortable signing our name to it because we know that we’ve been diligent and provided a high-quality service.
Contact us today to place an Investigations order!