Reflections on 2004

Sandefur to the Rescue

I was talking to a law librarian friend who told me an incredible story.  He took his current job after being run out of business by the California private investigator's special interest group.  My friend received a cease and desist letter because he had been doing legal research for licensed attorneys as well as fact research (calling witnesses, searching public records, etc.).  My friend never identified himself as a private investigator, and he only searched public records, but under the law,his conduct might have been illegal.  The group threatened to sick the California attorney general after him, so he closed his business and is now making 50% of his previous salary since he was ineligible to obtain a PI license.

I thought he must have been mistaken.  Indeed, I hoped he was mistaken, since I wanted to open up my own legal and fact research company while awaiting bar results.  I'm a skillful legal researcher, and I can get information from people.  So I thought it would be a nice way for me to start paying off my loans until I received my bar license.  Boy, was I wrong. 

According to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, a person may obtain a PI license only if he meets these requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Three years of compensated experience totaling not less than 6,000 hours in investigative work, while employed by law enforcement agencies, collection agencies, insurance agencies, banks, courts, and other private investigation agencies, etc.
  • A college degree in criminal law, criminal justice or police science can be substituted for part of the experience.
  • Pass a written exam.
  • Undergo a criminal history review.

I'm over 18 and the United States Army granted me a SECRET clearance (that's one under TOP SECRET), I can pass tests pretty easily, and I have a law degree.  But I can't be a PI.

Basically, the only way a person can get a PI license is if he's an ex-cop, or if he works under someone who has a license.  In other words, working as PI is job security for retired cops.  It's not good enough that police officers have job security while they work; they must also have a near monopoly on another profession when they retire or resign.  Moreover, other licensed PIs get to control the influx of new licensees since one has to work for a person with a license (for up to three years!) to obtain his or her own license.  Even though the U.S. Army invested well over $100,000 in me, I'm not good enough to be a PI.

Fortunately, there are good organizations like the Institute for Justice and Pacific Legal Foundation who fight these types of licensing schemes.  In fact, Tim Sandefur is fighting an irrational licensing scheme in Florida.

So, today, I'm sending a shout out to Mr. Sandefur and the good folks at the Pacific Legal Foundation and Institue for Justice.  Even though I don't want to be a plaintiff in any test case, I recognize how valuable their work is.  Sandefur, and others like him, are fighting barriers to entry imposed by insiders.

I'm also making a new year's resolution (something I have never done) to devote 50 hours of my time to economic liberties litigation.  I've devoted over 150 hours each year since I've been in law school to pro bono criminal and section 1983 matters.  This year I'll change things up by helping people break barriers to earning a living with hopes that they don't have to turn to crime.