Legal Research for Private Investigators

Legal Research
Online Legal and Law Resources

This article covers legal research for private investigators. Private investigation work touches many different aspects of the law. Private investigators and police officers encounter situations related to legal issues such as personal rights, privacy laws, marital disputes, electronic surveillance, and many more.

Having a clear understanding of the laws and regulations that govern different types of investigations will help you operate within the constraints of the law and keep yourself out of trouble.

In addition, many clients work directly with attorneys and lawyers in regard to process serving, background checks, surveillance, and many other jobs. Therefore, it is important for private investigators to have a good working knowledge of the law.

Bar Associations

In general, a bar association is a professional body of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction. Other bar associations are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members. And in many cases, they serve as both.

In many jurisdictions, the “bar association” is comprised of lawyers who are qualified as barristers or advocates (collectively known as “the bar”, or members of the bar), while the “law society” comprises solicitors. These bodies are sometimes mutually exclusive. In other jurisdictions, the “bar” may refer to the entire community of persons engaged in the practice of law.

American Bar Association (ABA)

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary bar association of lawyers, attorneys, and law students.  The organization’s mission is “To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” The American Bar Association helps set the standard for law schools and sets ethical codes.

In general, the association is a great resource for learning about the law and legal matters. Larger investigative agencies may have investigators on staff that are also attorneys and lawyers. In that situation, it would be helpful for the agency to become a member of the organization to take advantage of its resources. This will also help speed the process of obtaining information when needed. For more information on the bar:

  • Visit the American Bar Association’s official website. The website provides information on various ABA groups, provides resources for lawyers, provides the latest news relevant to the legal industry and has information on careers.
  • Visit the ABA Journal website to get information on the latest legal headlines, sample articles, blogs, and podcasts. The site is a great resource for learning about the law.
  • Legal Forms – A list of various legal forms.

State Bar Associations

A directory of State Bar Associations is available on the American Bar Association (ABA) website. To locate a particular association, click on the appropriate state on the map. A list of state associations will be provided, which includes the name, address, phone number, fax, and email address (if available). This list also provides a link to the individual website to find more detailed information.

Private Investigators may find state bar associations useful for locating attorneys, as the associations maintain a directory of the attorneys for their state. Private Investigators often need to track down attorneys who were assigned to particular cases, or who may have knowledge about a witness or related case.

Also, they are a great place to check to see if an attorney has any ethical violations or if they have been disciplined for any reason.

Attorneys, Lawyers and Law Firms

A lawyer, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is “a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person licensed to practice law.” More generally,  More generally, an attorney is a professional person authorized to practice law, conduct lawsuits, and give legal advice and/or represent others in legal matters. 

Private investigators often form relationships with local attorneys as a source of business. Private investigators often perform investigative legwork such as tracking down and interviewing witnesses, service of process and uncovering information and data.

  • Attorney Pages – The Attorney Pages website helps you locate an attorney.
  • – Search for an attorney, get answers to your legal questions and download do-it-yourself legal forms.

Expert Witnesses

Read our article about expert witnesses and how to use online directories to connect with experts for your case.

List of Criminal Competencies and Corresponding Court Cases

The following list of criminal competencies:

Competency to Consent to a Search or Seizure
Mapp versus Ohio
Katz vs. the United States
Florida vs. Rodriguez

Competency to Stand Trial
Dusky vs. the United States
Panetti vs. Quarterman

Competency to Waive Right to Competency
The United States versus Morin

Competency to Consent to a Search or Seizure
Fourth Amendment

Competency to Confess
Brown vs. Mississippi
Miranda vs. Arizona
Colorado vs. Connelly

Competency to Plead Guilty
Seiling vs. Eyman
Godinez vs. Moran
Godinez, Warden vs. Moran

Competency to Waive the Right to Counsel
Godinez vs. Moran
McKaskle vs. Wiggins
Faretta vs. California

Competency to Refuse an Insanity Defense
Whalem vs. the United States
Frendak vs. the United States

Competency to Testify
Legal Requirements for Testimonial Competence
Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 601

Assessment of Witness Credibility
Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 508

Competency to Be Sentenced and Executed
Saddler vs. the United States

Competency at the Sentencing Proceedings
Chavez vs. the United States

Competency to Be Imprisoned or Executed
Ford vs. Wainwright
Penry vs. Lynaugh

Competency to Refuse Treatment
Perry vs. Louisiana

If you’re just beginning to start researching legal topics, here is a helpful site, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. The site provides brief summaries of law topics with links to key primary source material, other Internet resources, and useful off-net references. They can be accessed through the following set of broad topic categories (scroll down), through an alphabetical listing of topics, and through a searchable index.

Many private investigators, legal professionals, and even journalists encounter situations where they need to tape a witness statement or record audio. In such situations, the website Can We Tape serves as a practical guide to taping phone calls and in-person conversations in the United States.

FindLaw is the highest-trafficked legal Web site, providing the most comprehensive set of legal resources on the Internet for legal professionals, businesses, students, and individuals. These resources include Web search utilities, cases and codes, legal news, an online career center, and community-oriented tools, such as a secure document management utility, mailing lists, message boards, and free e-mail.

Law Engine provides resources on a variety of law topics such as courts, cases, federal codes and rules, law libraries, and legal products and services.

Law Guru was originally started in 1996 by a Los Angeles law firm and has evolved into one of the most popular legal websites on the Internet. It is offered as a free service to the entire Internet Community. is recognized nationwide as a leader within the legal community, providing public access to pre-qualified, pre-screened attorneys, and free legal resources. allows you to search for and hire an attorney in your local area. Search by city and state or by law specialty.


The U.S. Federal Courts provide online access to federal court records, news, statistics, and more.

Other Resources

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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