Corporate clients include law firms, businesses, national PI agencies, and associate PIs. A PI will typically do business with these clients without a contract because they are professional, protective of their reputation and pay invoices in a timely manner.
Private clients are a mixed bag. There is the wealthy client who just wants results and doesn't care about the cost and then there is the woman who never worked outside the home and whose husband just decided that life would be more exciting if he had an affair with his secretary. Both need the services of a PI and both should be treated with the same amount of respect by the PI.
Private clients should expect to have to sign a contract but it's not unusual for PIs to work without a contract. They should also expect to pay a retainer in advance as a good faith deposit for the PI's services. Some PIs will demand a large retainer in lieu of a contract. This leaves no protection for the client. Other PIs will want a smaller retainer and work on a pay-as-we-go arrangement. This provides protection for both the PI and the client.
What the Private Client Can Expect The client should be reasonable in their expectations. They should be very specific as to what information they need the PI to obtain within their budget. They can expect the PI to work in a legal and ethical manner and shouldn't expect him to do otherwise. They can expect the PI to work dilligently in gathering the information that is desired.
When it comes to expenses, the client should expect to have to pay reasonable expenses like mileage. These expenses can add up, especially in Iowa where there are many miles between towns. A PI might throw in a couple of hours of free time as a favor but don't expect him to pay expenses as well.
The client can expect a detailed report in a timely manner but only after the invoice is paid in full. The report is the end product and should be written in a professional way. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the report should make the client feel that the PI performed due diligence in gathering the information for which he was retained.
Lastly, the client can expect the PI to treat any private information given to him be held in strict confidence. When it comes to finding a person for the client, the client should expect the PI to be very careful to make sure that the client means no harm to the missing person.
What the PI Can Expect From the Private Client The PI can expect the client to define the objective and pay a retainer before going to work. The PI can expect the client not to interfere with the investigation. Especially in domestic cases, the client can be their own worst enemy. The very best way for the PI to get information is that nobody but the client knows he is trying to get it. Interference is grounds for termination of the case and the client shouldn't expect a refund of their retainer.
The client shouldn't badger the PI with emails or calls that want him to do this and that. These can be a huge distraction plus the PI can legitimately charge the client for having to take the time to deal with these distractions. Set an objective and let the PI do his job.
Lastly, the PI has a right to expect that the client is not misrepresenting himself when asking for the information. He can also expect the client to use any information provided in a legal and ethical way. The PI has a license to protect which is the source of his livelihood. Any breach in trust would be grounds for terminating the case. It's really all about trust, isn't it? A good case will develop mutual trust between client and PI and both will feel well served when it's over.