In the first months of 2013, while Breaking Bad was filming its final season, Staci Dresher '03 found herself driving to a trailer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to talk with meth addicts. Accompanied by lawyers and an armed ex-cop, she was there to ask them what they knew about a massive fraud that had occurred at a local manufacturing plant.
It was the kind of scene Dresher had pictured when she left law to become a private investigator at the Mintz Group, a New York-based investigative services firm, in 2006. She even bought a trench coat and fedora to look the part. In reality, in today's fact-gathering world, 95% of her work is done from behind a desk. But that doesn't make it any less exciting. Dresher, today partner and associate general counsel in the firm's San Francisco office, investigates everything from complex fraud to trade-secret misappropriation to global anti-corruption cases.
“Facts make cases go away, they put money in the pockets they belong, they bring wrongdoers to justice,” Dresher says. “To be the best advocate, you need to have the best facts.”
When Dresher was studying at UC Hastings, she had no idea that PI's did anything but follow cheating spouses. After graduating in 2003, she joined Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP (now part of Dentons) and litigated complex business transactions, insurance and employment cases. She first encountered the Mintz Group while working on a pro bono case for the Center for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit investigating a former Haitian paramilitary leader.
“I had no idea there was this sophisticated corporate fact gathering world,” Dresher says. “I realized that the ability to find information that 99% of people don't realize is right at their fingertips is really cool.”
In 2005, Dresher moved to Quinn Emanuel to pursue more intellectual property work. But she couldn't shake the lure of the PI world. A year later, she reached out to the former head of the Mintz Group's San Francisco office and got a job offer. Dresher expected to stay for a couple years, then go back to law armed with a PI license. But she soon moved up to director, and she didn't miss being an attorney.
“I liked being the fact gatherer. My role felt more tangible and rewarding,” Dresher says. Plus, instead of spending years on one case, she could juggle many.
Having a law degree did help Dresher in her new role.
“Lawyers love that they can explain the situation, and we can have a meaningful conversation. They can have faith that I will gather the facts in a legal and ethical way, but also in response to what they need,” she says.
Most of Dresher's work is for lawyers: finding people, identifying assets, gathering facts to help prove a case, or supporting an internal investigation. Today, nearly half of her cases have an international component.
Since Dresher made partner in 2011, she has spent much of her time bringing in new business, staying on top of regulatory requirements and managing staff. But she makes sure to stay involved in the cases that make her job so rewarding.
In the Albuquerque case, several former employees swore that no fraud had taken place and they hadn't stolen anything. “We finally broke them down by repeatedly going back and got them to admit certain things,” she recalls. “We were able to hone in on how the fraud happened and who was involved.”
As a result of the findings, the plant's new owner, which oversaw the internal investigation, cleaned house and put in strict standards to prevent future theft.
“Information influences decisions, and getting the best information — that's the most fun part of my job.”
How To Conduct Investigative Interviews - Tips From Staci Dresher '03, Private Eye