By: J.W. Jack Murray CLI,CFE,CCDI
Executive Director International Council of Accident
Investigators and Reconstructionists
Over the past thirty years I have had numerous accessions where investigators
have told me how frustrated they were that their business was not succeeding
financially as they had planned.
Some were folks that had only been in business a relatively shirt time,
others were grizzled veterans of the PI wars, but all had basically the
same laments. “I’m doing the best I can but I’m just
not doing as well as I should..”
There’s really two issues here. The first is by what are you judging
your success? Are you looking at other people in the business and saying,
“I’m as good an investigator as they are but I’m not
getting those high profile, big fee cases. There’s a lot to consider
here. First, don’t judge yourself by others. The real question is
are you really doing the best your capable of?
That’s the true measure of things. Are you being the best you, that
your capable of? If not, why not? Do you really enjoy what you do? Are
you working certain types of cases just because they are profitable, even
though you hate doing them? If you don’t enjoy your work, you will
never excel at it.
When I first started, over 30 years ago, I took any case that walked in
the door simply because I had a family to feed. It soon became very obvious
to me that I hated domestic cases. Finally, in 1989, when I got my own
divorce, my children were grown and I swore that I would never take another
divorce case again. My business not only survived, it grew. Partially,
because I was doing a better job for my clients, whose cases I enjoyed
As time went by I found that the cases I got the most satisfaction out
of, were motor vehicle accident cases and I really began concentrating
on getting these cases and not seeking other types. This specialty encompassed
a lot of areas, including vehicular crime, and fraud. My business grew
and I enjoyed life a whole lot more. Yes, I made more money too.
As they say in the movies, “a mans got to know his limitations.”
Clark Kent was not Superman. Superman was Clark Kent. You’ve got
to find your own source of Kryptonite.
As I got more and more accident cases I realized that just collecting
information was not as satisfying to me as trying to determine the causation
of the accident. I also understood I did not have the training sufficient
to take reconstruction cases so in 1989 I went to accident reconstruction
school. Not an easy task, after all those years in the business to admit
I didn’t have enough training to be one of the best at what I was
doing. But it paid off and now I have the luxury of taking only those
cases that I want to take, and only working for those attorneys and insurance
companies that I want to work for.
Perhaps you had best take an honest evaluation of your skills and talents.
Do you have 20 years of experience, or do you just have one years experience
In 2005, I went back to Texas A&M for another 80 hours of advance
collision investigation training. The instructor took me aside and asked,
“what are you doing here? You’ve been doing this stuff for
thirty years, you’ve written books on it, what are you possibly
going to benefit from this?
The instructor involved is a super guy and extremely knowledgeable, but
I really couldn’t explain my motivation to him. I knew that it had
been 16 years since I went to reconstruction school and your skills diminish,
if you don’t keep them honed. There are some areas that you just
don’t use as often as others.
When’s the last time you went to formal training in your specialty.
I don’t mean the sessions we all go to fulfill the CE requirements
of our licenses, or your time at the police academy twenty years ago,
but current seminars and schools that cover just what you do.
The complaint is, “I can’t afford to take three days, or a
week off for school, I’ve got a business to run.” The truth
is you can’t afford to not invest time in getting better at what
you do. It’s amazing what we forget over a period of time.
They say there are three things that go when a man gets old. The first
is his memory, and I can never remember what the other two are!
Another issue that frequently comes up is when we see our competition
cutting corners, and sometimes crossing the line on ethics. Consider the
recent case of a highly publicized PI, in California, who is facing the
prospect of perhaps spending the rest of his life behind bars. I’m
sure there are competitors of his who were envious of the high profile
cases and clients he had, and probably a little cynical about the some
of the methodology he employed. But, would you trade places with him now?
The bottom line is you might win the rat race, but at the end of the day,
you’re still a rat!
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