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  • Legal investigation is not what you see on TV

    February 4, 2020 | In The News
  • STERLING — Longtime resident John Lajoie became the 44th national director of the National Association of Legal Investigators on Sept. 1. Lajoie has been a private legal investigator for more than 30 years.

    “Twenty-eight years after joining NALI and serving in just about every capacity within the organization, I finally reached a goal I had set,” Lajoie said. “But really, it doesn’t feel much different from when I was starting out. I’m still the same person, with just a bit more experience.”

    Lajoie grew up in Worcester before moving to West Boylston, where he graduated from high school. He then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, which he called the best decision he ever made.

    “I needed a kick and got it,” Lajoie said. “I excelled in the Air Force.”

    After the Air Force, Lajoie graduated from Worcester State University summa cum laude in 1985, two years after marrying Susan Patterson. They raised three children and became grandparents in August.

    Lajoie went to work at Commerce Insurance, now MAPFRE Insurance, following a brief stint in law school after college. There he was trained to investigate claims.

    “I was grinding. I loved it and the company, still do,” he said.

    He then worked complex litigation and coverage cases, farming out claims investigations to agencies that specialized in them.

    “There was no real good agency in central Massachusetts that Commerce was using,” Lajoie said.

    He did some research, took a class in starting a business, wrote a business plan and got a loan, and started Lajoie Investigations in 1989.

    He has had some influential professional mentors along the way. While he was at Commerce, Larry O’Connor mentored Lajoie in criminal defense investigation.

    “Believe it or not, my first criminal case was a homicide, and Larry helped me through it,” Lajoie said. “He taught me the criminal defense ropes.”

    Lajoie met Holden resident and lawyer Peter Ettenberg, another mentor, in the early 1990s.

    “I can’t tell you how much he and his firm have helped me out,” Lajoie said. “Peter is simply the best, hands-down the best attorney I have ever worked with. I still work with him. In fact, I converse with Peter on just about a daily basis and investigate all those high-profile cases he gets. We are very loyal to each other, and have become great friends.”

    Legal investigators typically handle litigation investigation support services for lawyers in private and public practice, and indirectly through insurance companies and private companies.

    “The criminal defense, insurance claims, and personal injury work keep me busy,” Lajoie said. “A legal investigator is dedicated to the search for the truth in furtherance of justice. I prepare cases from day one for trial in the civil and criminal arena. I look at a case, determine a working theory of defense or liability, plan an investigative strategy and plan to support it, and execute the plan.”

    Lajoie works closely with lawyers he trusts.

    “It works best when the attorney and the investigator are on the same page,” he said. “I work very hard to assure due process to my client, whether they are suing someone or getting sued or prosecuted.”

    A typical workday might include meeting clients in his office, managing staff, investigation strategy and conducting scope sessions, and training or lecturing.

    “No day is the same for me, or my staff,” Lajoie said. “I have highly competent, motivated people … trained by me to conduct legal investigation. I hire college grads, and we train them in-house. I love sharing investigative knowledge and experiences with my loyal staff … . I like to provide the best in customer service.”

    Lajoie’s favorite aspect of his job is being out in the field.

    “I love to roll my sleeves up, meet people, do interviews, take statements, gather evidence, etc.,” he said.

    One of the biggest challenges he faces is balancing work and family life — which he said he has done, but not without help.

    “I try to stay in balance and focused, but it can be difficult at times,” Lajoie said. “I have a hundred headaches going on at once, so I must be intensely organized. People are depending on me. Lives are at stake.”

    Lajoie and his wife have worked together since the late 1990s. Patterson is a member of NALI as well and “a seasoned legal investigator in her own right,” Lajoie said. She is a medical scientist, and handles reviewing medical and forensic testing reports. Lajoie handles the planning and practical aspect of those cases.

    “We collaborate on complex and difficult cases such as homicides and catastrophic incidents,” Lajoie said. “She also manages the office and staff, and I do the training and set policy guidelines. I do the marketing, and she manages the administration of it all. It works well. Sometimes I hardly see her when we both are at the office, as she is on one side of the office and I am at the other. We hardly ever get in each other’s way. She knows her business and I know my role.”

    Lajoie said investigative work is not necessarily how it is depicted on television shows or in the movies, although he does have staff who do surveillance.

    “What you see on TV and in the movies, and read in fiction novels, that CSI stuff, it’s mostly malarkey.”

    One case that has stood out was when he was hired 10 years ago to find the long-lost brother of a client who hadn’t heard from him since he entered the Marines in 1969 and was sent to Japan.

    “He had changed his name 10 times and used at least five different Social Security numbers,” Lajoie said. “After nine months, I finally found him doing a stint in a federal prison … . The feds never knew who they really had locked up.”

    Cracking the case, he said, “was all about the subject making a small mistake. I ran with that, traveled all over the country, and finally solved it. Now the subject is out of prison and with his family.”

    Lajoie said he is honored to be selected as the national director for NALI, which was founded in 1967 and is the oldest and most prestigious association of investigators servicing the legal community within the U.S. and beyond.

    NALI has its own world-renowned Certified Legal Investigator Professional Board Certification program, of which Lajoie was chairperson for four years. During that time the program certified 12 legal investigators; there are only 64 CLIs in the word.

    “Over the years, NALI has set benchmarks for investigative ethics and established high standards for the practice of legal investigation,” Lajoie said. “NALI educates, assists and services our members and their clients.”

    Many responsibilities come with his role at NALI, including appointing committee chairs and working with them and regional directors across the country; planning, organizing and running training seminars and professional development and continuing education conferences all over the world; and establishing alliances with vendors, business partners, other investigators, lawyers, and attorney and investigator state and national associations.

    “My responsibility to NALI and the profession (includes leading) others to see my vision of Discover NALI, which is a plan to bring name recognition to the association through value, unity, diversity, inclusivity, increased membership, enhanced benefits and attorney awareness.”

    Lajoie said he is grateful for the successful career he worked so hard to build, his “tremendous staff of talented people,” and his family. He has published two books and lectures all over the country.

    “Private and legal investigators help people who are noticeably hurting and at low points in their lives,” Lajoie said. “They have a problem that needs to be solved. If I can bring a smile to their face through my work ethic and acumen, I have reached the ultimate goal. I want to be human and humane, compassionate and committed, fair and just so that my time on this earth is valued by others and myself. I want to lead by example so that others can learn from my experiences. I want to set the standard that others can follow. I want diversity, inclusiveness and unity in NALI, in my community, in my country and in the world. Maybe it’s asking too much, but I’m going to do what I must do in order to contribute toward those goals.”

    Danielle Ray, Correspondent for The Landmark
    Original Article Link: https://www.thelandmark.com/news/20200130/legal-investigation-is-not-what-you-see-on-tv