Minnesota attorney Aaron Hall speaks with Patrick McPherson of Metro Legal Services.
Metro Legal provides the following services:
- Legal Process Service
- Public Record Filing, Searches & Retrievals
- Courier and Mobile Notary Service
- Nationally Arranged Services
- International Services
- Skip Tracing
- Private Investigations
Aaron Hall: One thing my clients find most frustrating is when they’ve won a lawsuit, now they have to collect on it and often the person or the business who lost the lawsuit hides their assets or can make it very difficult to actually get paid the amount that was won on a lawsuit. For a while, we’ve used Metro Legal. Metro Legal provides skip trace services. We’ll talk with Patrick in what that is, but I was very excited to hear they are now providing private investigative services which goes much further than skip traces. First off Patrick, what is a skip trace?
Patrick McPherson: Skip trace is locating a debtor for service of process. A lot of times when you go to serve somebody, they’ve moved, or they’ve tried to conceal their address, or they use a PO Box, and we track down the good address and get one of our process servers out there and serve them personally.
Aaron Hall: Does a skip trace involve any other information about a person or their history?
Patrick McPherson: We can take as little as a name, but we’d like a little more information. A past address. Maybe an old phone number. Just something to identify that this Jim Smith is different from that Jim Smith and literally, we can track them down from there.
Aaron Hall: In the past, after a lawsuit was won, did Metro Legal provide any services for tracking down assets?
Patrick McPherson: Rarely.
Aaron Hall: OK. What do you do now?
Patrick McPherson: I’m a licensed private investigator. I’ve been a private investigator for over 15 years, and I’ve come to Metro Legal to start an investigations division. As you said, one of our primary focuses are asset searches both pre- and post-litigation.
Aaron Hall: Why do you like this job? You’ve been doing it for years.
Patrick McPherson: I seem to be good at it. When I get something, I can’t let up and I dig and dig and dig. I mean all facets either research in the office or surveillance or going out at 2:00 AM and grabbing their garbage. It’s not for everybody.
Aaron Hall: There’s a sense of justice about it though. When the court system has already said that somebody owes money, they’re now trying to live above the law. Avoid paying that debt. It’s really valuable to have a service like yours. What specific information can you provide to lawyers or people who’ve won lawsuits in order to go after assets?
Patrick McPherson: Pretty much look at hard assets. Liquid assets. Everything from real estate to vehicles to common stocks to bank accounts. I’ll take your season tickets if they have some value, and you owe my client money. Livestock. Anything.
Aaron Hall: So that’s a great example. Season tickets to a Vikings game. How do you find out that they have this?
Patrick McPherson: We use not only our databases like the Minnesota DMV and assessor records but also, social networks are great. Facebook is awesome. These people brag they got new Vikings tickets for the season. Those are worth a couple of grand. You know what? You owe my client a couple of grand. You should have gave him that money instead of spending it on Vikings tickets.
Aaron Hall: You actually approach these people then and talk with them?
Patrick McPherson: Every once and a while. Normally, when something gets seized, it’s taken by the sheriff. It’s nice because there’s no arguments there. They take it. It’s over. They can go back to the client at the end and maybe be a settle or at least, bring them to the table and they can get some negotiation going whereas in the past, they would have shut down and never have contacted the client.
Aaron Hall: What are the packages and price points you offer?
Patrick McPherson: We have two asset searches. We have a level one asset profile and that is a flat rate product either in an individual, a company although an individual of a small company, husband, wife, or a lot of times, a driver and owner of a motor vehicle. That’s a package that gives you an overview of the individual’s hard assets. Real estate vehicles, snowmobiles, stocks, banking relationships, as well as the liabilities, judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies. It’s no good to file a lawsuit for somebody who already has a couple of million dollars of lawsuits ahead of you.
Aaron Hall: How much does this information cost?
Patrick McPherson: It’s $225. That’s going to give you either pre-judgment, it’s going to give you 98 if should you move forward and if there are going to be assets there, you can use it to file lis pendens. You can use it to see where you’re going to set lien. If you do want a judgment, post-judgment, it gives you all the low hanging fruit. A place to start. Do you seize a vehicle? Seize a bank account? Things like that.
Aaron Hall: Sure, OK. Then the deeper analysis, the investigative aspect?
Patrick McPherson: The deeper we go, level two, and that is specific investigations for specific assets. Maybe we think the guy’s working. I just couldn’t find it in level one. He’s done a good job to conceal it. Then maybe, we surveillance. Surveil him at work.
Aaron Hall: What’s the fee structure for that?
Patrick McPherson: All level 2 are hourly rate. Our field rate is $70 an hour plus any expenses which is usually mileage. Before starting any of those, we put a plan together with it what we’re going to do, what we believe is going to happen, and how much it’s going to cost so all expectations are on the exact same page, and there’s no shock at the end for either you or your client.
Aaron Hall: Do you have common questions that lawyers or others may come to you with?
Patrick McPherson: Usually right away even before judgment, a lot of attorneys and clients will go, “Can you get bank account information?” Everyone wants bank account information. One, you can’t legally obtain it without the judgment.
Aaron Hall: After you have a judgment?
Patrick McPherson: After judgment. Even sometimes in discovery, you can get it. Most importantly, it’s not worth anything. Because somebody has $15,000 in that account today could be gone tomorrow. That’s the number one question I get.
Aaron Hall: Any tips for people who are considering using your services? Maybe they have a judgment or thinking about a large lawsuit against somebody?
Patrick McPherson: I would before looking at the time and effort getting a judgment, I would look at the liabilities. Minnesota MNCIS is our civil court records and it’s free. You just put in a name, and you can look and see. If you look at the guy, if he doesn’t have substantial assets or maybe he’s not working or her owned his own company. His company is belly up. He’s half a million dollars’ worth in judgment and some of those judgments are attorneys who do collections and they’re not collecting. There’s a reason they’re not collecting and the odds that you’re going to is pretty slim.
Aaron Hall: Right, that makes sense. I’ve wondered if it would even make sense to recommend the clients do a search like this prior to shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees to make sure it’s worth going forward.
Patrick McPherson: You know, I think so because for the end client, it’s such a personal thing so many times and to put in all the work and to scheme with the attorney and put a plan together and then you get the judgment and then there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow. You just spent another $3,000 on top of the $50,000 you’ve already owed. Now, you owe $53,000, and there’s still no justice for you at the end. I know it’s hard to walk away from debts like that but sometimes, it’s better. Throw good money after bad.