Finding Your Expert Witness
Finding an Expert Witness can be difficult. They don’t teach a class on it in law school. It is no secret that the expert witness that you choose to work with can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case. When looking for an expert witness, many attorneys will assemble a pool of applicants, potential experts, to evaluate and and eventually choose from. However, that pool is often very shallow as the people with the right technical expertise can seem few and far between, not to mention those that also have good communication skills and a likability factor. With a little bit of effort, anyone can find and create a pool of qualified expert witness candidates. Here are nine techniques or methods for filling your pool of applicants so that you can find the right expert for your case, one that understands and can clearly explain the technical issues of your case, and one that you will actually enjoy working with.
1. Consult Your Firm’s Internal Expert List
In an ideal situation, your firm has a list or pool of potential expert witnesses that they have worked with in the past. Try to find the list, if it exists, and see if there is an expert that fits the needs of your case. If your firm doesn’t have a list, start one. You can use the tips in this article to add to it as you pursue more cases. Having a list of competent and trusted experts will save you and your clients time and money.
2. Call Me
If you are looking for a mechanical engineering expert witness, make the Experts at Alpine Engineering and Design, Inc. your first call. Indeed, this is a shameless plug, but in actuality, this may be the only tip you need. If one of our six mechanical engineering and product safety experts doesn’t have the skill and experience for your particular case, we can likely refer you to someone that does. Find out more at alpineeng.com
3. Ask an Attorney
Whether a partner at your firm or a friend from law school, attorneys love to refer experts that they have enjoyed working with. Let’s be honest, you are going to end up calling the expert’s references anyway to see what the attorneys they have worked with think about them. Starting out your search by asking for referrals cuts out a couple of steps.
4. Ask Google
Most good experts want to be found, and put some effort into the SEO of their websites. That being said, this can be a little tricky because expert referral companies (more on them later) pay for ads and SEO so that they come up at the top of the page for almost every search term. When you first ask Google, look past the advertisements and referral companies. Look for the experts actual website. You may have to go to the second or even third page (gasp!) of google results to get past all of the ads, but a little bit of extra effort goes a long way. To enhance your results when you ask google, be specific. You may even try an advanced search (https://www.google.com/advanced_search) so you can exclude or require exact phrases. Whether you are looking for a forklift expert witness, nursing expert witness, or financial damages expert witness, be as specific as possible and you can even include the state or area you are located in if you prefer someone local.
5. Search of LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a social network for working professionals, odds are you have heard of it and already have a profile. Do you use it for more than keeping up with old colleagues and friends? Have you used it to help locate an expert witness? Most experts set up a profile that outlines their experience and expertise, and even specify that they are open to expert witness work. In a lot of ways it is like an online CV that anyone can search. When you search with LinkedIn, the results are often influenced by the people in your network, so reach out to and connect with experts and industry professionals. Over time, this will turn into an excellent search tool. If you don’t have the time to develop your network, LinkedIn Premium is a paid upgrade that provides advanced search options, such as location, position, industry, etc. that will increase the accuracy of your search results without going through the work to develop your network.
6. Use Experts from Similar Cases
Look at past cases with similar equipment or facts. In most of these cases, both sides will have disclosed experts. You can add these experts to your pool of candidates. You can also look at what their opinions were and how well they presented them. This may take a little more effort, but it can be well worth it, especially for large cases.
7. Opposing Experts that Do Well
In many cases, attorneys have the ability to evaluate at least two experts. The one they are working with and the opposition’s expert. In some cases you may be impressed with one or more of the opposition’s experts. Perhaps you appreciate the way they presented themselves, or their opinions. Perhaps they handled your most difficult questions well in deposition. In any case, if you find an expert you like, make a note and add them to your internal list after the case is over.
8. Related Technical Publications
Another good way to search for experts in a certain area is to look at the authors of articles in technical publications related to the technology at issue. You might look at peer reviewed articles or the articles in relevant trade association magazines. It is surprising how many trade or industry associations there are, they can be a great source of information. This method is lower on the list because the authors may or may not be open to and may or may not have any experience in expert witness work.
9. Referral Services
Referral services are certainly the easiest and most time effective for busy attorneys to locate a pool of potential expert witnesses. That being said, there is a reason that referral services are last on this list as it often comes with a very steep price that you may not realize your client will be paying. You may also be locked into this rate if you use the expert again as that is commonly part of their contract. Referral services will find out what type of expert you are looking for, and then use the methods described above to locate a number of experts for you. They will usually do the search for “free,” and then mark up the expert’s rates, taking a cut of each hour worked once the expert is retained. In my experience, the markup is typically in the 30%-40% range. If the expert’s role in the case you are working on is small, and they just need to review a few documents, the markup may be satisfactory. However, if the expert’s roll is more involved, your clients could end up paying tens of thousands of dollars more than they would have for the same expert if you had taken the time to find them without the referral firm. Before contracting with one of these services, you need to decide if you want your client to pay extra for every hour worked, or if it is worth a day (or even a week) of one of your associates/paralegals time to find the expert on your own.
Note: Expert Directories
I was going to include expert directories as one of the ways to find an expert witness. A number of years ago, expert witness directories were common both in print and online. However, it seems that the online editions have in large part turned into referral services (described above), letting you search their experts on your own but still marking up their time once retained. (The SEAK Expert Witness Directory is the only exception that I am aware of The print editions are in large part out of date, or so I have been told. Most of the listed experts have retired or moved on. With the few calls we do get from directories, the attorneys are almost always surprised that we even answered the phone as they are not able to make contact with most of the expert witness listings. So, if you have a good expert directory please use it, but be aware that directories in general may not be the best use of your time as they may be out of date or the directory owner may still mark up the experts time even though you “found them” yourself.
At the end of the day, finding the right expert can be a challenging but worthwhile investment of time and effort. And if you have an expert that you particularly enjoyed working with or did a great job for you, pass their name along. I’ve never met someone that didn’t appreciate being referred. It will benefit both the expert and the attorneys in your network.
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