Criminal Investigator Certification

Criminal investigators spend much of their time examining crime scene photos and police reports.
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If you are a criminal investigator, earning a certification like the Certified Legal Investigator certification from the National Association of Legal Investigators is something you need to consider. Making the choice to become a Certified Legal Investigator shows employers your commitment to the job and can help you to increase your earning potential.

Basic Requirements

For the Certified Legal Investigator designation, you need to work primarily in investigations for the plaintiff or criminal defense. You can work for private agencies or law firms, as long as you have the appropriate licenses to practice in your state. You need to have at least five years of experience working full time in the field to be considered. You can qualify with four years of experience if you've completed 60 semester hour credits or more at a college or university. Lastly, you need to agree to the National Association of Legal Investigators code of ethics. NALI can take away your certification if they get complaints about violations of their ethics code.

White Paper

As part of the Certified Legal Investigator examination, you need to write and submit a 1,000 word white paper. You can choose any subject on investigation or investigative practice, but the paper shouldn't be published and must be completely original. You can use your own experience as a reference, though you shouldn't just retell the story of a case, or you can use external research. If you do decide to use external research, your paper needs to have footnotes or a bibliography. For examples of what makes a great white paper, check out NALI's magazine, The Legal Investigator. If your paper stands out, NALI may publish it in the magazine.


The other parts of the exam are a written and oral test. The written test has definitions, true or false, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, matching and essay questions. The questions come from NALI's reading list, NALI's magazine and first-hand knowledge of certification committee members. The oral test has two sections: a section where you interview a witness as part of a mock investigation and an oral section that covers ethics. You need to get at least 70 percent of the questions right to earn your certification. You can take your oral and written exam at two national conferences or in any location with at least five candidates ready for testing. The committee sometimes makes exceptions and holds exams at their discretion.

Continuing Education

To keep your certification, you need to certify that you've continued to work as a criminal investigator and satisfy continuing education requirements every three years. Continuing education requirements are the equivalent of about 50 hours of study and you can satisfy them in a number of ways. You earn these credits by attending seminars or conferences sponsored by NALI or another organization, completing college coursework, giving lectures or writing papers that meet NALI standards.

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