- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

Lewis Neuwelt doesn't wear a flashy Hawaiian shirt to the office. He doesn't sport a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. And his daily routine does not involve high-speed car chases through the hills of Oahu.
But that doesn't mean Mr. Neuwelt, a private investigator for nearly 25 years, doesn't love his work. And he is quick to dispel any misconceptions about his profession that may be gleaned from old episodes of "Magnum P.I." or movies starring Humphrey Bogart.
"We don't drive around in Maseratis," he says in an interview inside his two-room office. "For the most part, we don't go on wild car chases up and down mountain roads. I don't know of anyone in my profession who would break into apartments or hotel rooms or do the things we see on TV. The people I know in this profession are professional. They do things legally. And we're proud of what we do."
Mr. Neuwelt gets most of his workload from lawyers working on personal-injury cases in Maryland and the District. If someone is injured tripping on a damaged sidewalk, and decides to sue those responsible for maintaining the walk, Mr. Neuwelt might be hired by the complainant's attorney to gather information about the incident by taking photos of the sidewalk, and interviewing witnesses and police officers.
The lawyers Mr. Neuwelt works with are repeat clients; many give him numerous cases in a week. He says he frequently works on as many as eight cases in a day, often late into the evening and on weekends.
Mr. Neuwelt spends Saturday mornings in the office to fill out paperwork, read a lengthy deposition or take dictation. Weeknights might be spent interviewing police officers who work later shifts.
Advances in technology have meant some important changes in his field. The Internet now provides access to information that used to be available only to private investigators, but is now available to everyone.
But Mr. Neuwelt says his client list has increased in recent years because computers and other technological advances have helped him work more efficiently. What used to require a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles now might only require a visit to a Web site. And his cell phone may be his most important piece of equipment.
"I got a cell phone when they first came out on the market," says Mr. Neuwelt, who spends a huge portion of his workday traveling in the car. "It was very expensive and I thought I must be out of my mind. But I needed it."
But with cell phones also comes the increased ability for others to get in touch with him, and keeping it all together can be tough.
"Organization is a challenge," he says. "It's a major part of the business. Everyone wants their case worked on in a reasonable time period. It's an ability one has to have in order to keep a lot of clients satisfied."
Organization is just one trait necessary to be a private investigator. Curiosity and strong interviewing skills are crucial, along with a deep understanding of the legal system and those who work in it. Nearly all private investigators have a background in law enforcement or investigations, and many are retired police detectives.
Mr. Neuwelt got his start as an insurance adjuster for two big insurance companies. After a few years of toiling for corporate America, he knew he wanted to go into business for himself.
He decided to help out some old college buddies who worked as attorneys, and in 1977 received his license to become a private investigator.
To earn a license, one must present qualifications to the police department where one wishes to practice. In some areas, applicants must pass a written test; a background check is routine.
Mr. Neuwelt says his relationship with police officers can be touchy, but he says most are very cooperative, and that he even has established professional relationships with some officers.
"I would say, for the most part, they're fairly cooperative. It's not an adversarial relationship. They know that I'm a professional doing my job."
As for interviewing witnesses, he occasionally must perform a bit of a sales act.
Some witnesses are reluctant to be involved, and may have been interviewed about the incident at least once by police detectives, Mr. Neuwelt says.
"Once in a while, you'll find somebody who, for whatever reason, develops an attitude or says, you know, 'I don't want to be bothered, I'm too busy.' Or they may get calls from other investigators and say 'enough is enough already. I'm tired and I don't want to be hassled any longer.'
And I try to work with them to make them feel as if they are important."


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