My better half recently wrote an article for crime fiction writers about why private investigators don’t dominate meetings with new clients in lawyers’ offices (when the lawyer is present). She wrote it after noticing several writers crafting scenes in books where the private eye not only dominates the new client and lawyer, but sometimes interrogates the new client as if the PI is a cop.

I noticed something similar in the first season of the TV series”Better Call Saul” where the defense lawyer sat by passively as a cop mercilessly grilled the lawyer’s client.

Below is an excerpt from my wife’s article & a link to my own article on the “Better Call Saul” cop interrogation scene. Happy reading about the fiction vs. the facts!

PIs, Lawyers and Clients: Who’s Driving the Bus?

by Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

A Cliche in the Making?

Can a PI dominate a lawyer's meeting with a client? (Image licensed by Colleen Collins

Can a PI dominate a lawyer’s meeting with a client? (Image licensed by Colleen Collins

Recently, I’ve read this scenario in several private eye novels: In a first-time meeting with a new client in a defense lawyer’s office, the PI runs the show while the lawyer stays mum in the background. Sometimes the PI gets aggressive with the client, going full-tilt interrogation mode, demanding to know what the client said and did at a crime scene, for example. Meanwhile, the lawyer sits idly nearby, saying zilch, the epitome of passivity.

I’ve never met a milquetoast criminal lawyer. Especially on their turf.

After reading similar scenes in multiple books, I began to wonder if some writers are reading scenes like this in others’ private eye stories, so they copy the same set-up as if it’s realistic. Nope. It’s not. Copying a scenario, especially one involving a legal setting, without conducting some research to check accuracy is lazy writing. You might as well put your PI in a trench coat, carrying a sap, and swilling whiskey while on the job. You know, the stuff cliches are made of.

Let’s look at a few reasons why a PI wouldn’t behave like this.

Why a PI Would Not Blindly Take Control

Typically, a PI has already spoken to the attorney about the case, as well as the lawyer’s client’s involvement, before the meeting. It could even be the PI has recommended this particular client to the attorney, which has happened to us in the past, but we still let the attorney guide the meeting because if the PI takes over, problems can occur:

  • The PI might lead the client to have unreal legal expectations.
  • The PI could propose an unwanted (by the lawyer) course of legal strategy, or the investigator might foreclose the exploration of a viable legal or factual defense.
  • It is unethical for a lawyer to practice law with someone who is not a lawyer, a gray area that the PI could step into if he/she’s trying to run the meeting.
  • A client can lose respect for the lawyer if the PI is coming across as the one in charge. (Note from Shaun, the defense lawyer in Writing PIs: “This is more from the lawyer’s perspective because the last thing a lawyer wants to lose is his client’s respect.”)

Contributing to the Discussion

Nothing wrong with a PI making contributions in such meetings, but a smart PI knows better than to try and drive the bus.

(To read the full article, click here).


Click on the below article link for my article about the unrealistic scene in “Better Call Saul” where the defense lawyer, Saul, goes mum while a cop grills Saul’s client:

Better Call Saul: Would a Criminal Lawyer Really Do That?

Have a great week, Shaun

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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