Choosing The Best Expert

by Maureen D. Roy, President of Expert Resources, Inc., 1979 to 2013

To use or not to use an expert — if that is the question and the answer is yes, the attorney has just the right expert on tap — every now and then. Between the now and then the attorney has two options, either an in-house search or an expert referral firm.

The Five-Step In-House Search

Step 1. Establishing the required area of expertise can only be done successfully without outside consultation if the law firm has extensive background in the field at issue. For instance, a law firm with extensive background in vehicle accidents could anticipate that a truck-auto case needs not a vehicle expert, not an air brake expert, and not a metallurgical expert, but rather a vehicle accident reconstructionist, an expert in the plumbing of air brake systems, and an expert in the properties of steel and brass. This firm knows that one expert may be able to handle both accident reconstruction and air brake plumbing systems, but recognizes the improbability of finding one expert to handle all three areas. Law firms not specializing need help with an early analysis of the expertise called for. Costly errors are common at this point — specialities and subspecialities abound. Once the required expertise is established, the search can begin.

Step 2. Developing a list of candidates is usually done using in-house knowledge of experts on file, from advertisements, computer lists, other directories, universities, and name-for-a-fee referral services.

Step 3. The initial search and preliminary screening are time-consuming. Some attorneys prefer to take both Steps 2 and 3 unaided. Others prefer to delegate.

At the initial contact, a competent expert wants to determine whether or not he or she would feel qualified and comfortable with the case, so as not to mislead the attorney. Although the expert’s questions may seem irrelevant to whoever is searching for an expert, the caller should be fully prepared to be responsive. It is counterproductive to assume that they are intrusive or a waste of time. If their questions are improperly handled, competent experts will often tell the caller that they do not feel qualified, or have a time conflict. Screening is a two-way street.

Step 4. Screening candidates by telephone is both good news and bad news. The good news is that a few minutes per call may produce a fairly good idea of each expert’s depth of knowledge and competence (keeping in mind that some people consistently interview A+ but perform C-). The bad news is that a well-researched list of candidates can be relatively long.

A telephone checklist should include:

a) Case description

b) Expert’s applicable knowledge and experience

c) Consulting and/or testifying experience. (May or may not be desirable)

d) Fee schedule. (If distance is a problem, travel costs must be weighed against hourly or daily fee)

e) Conflicts

d) Will expert “play in Peoria”? e.g., accent, degree of care used in responses, tone of voice

e) Percentage of expert’s time spent on legal cases

f) Is this a “professional” expert?

g) Has expert worked only for plaintiffs or only for defendants?

A biased expert is hardly an asset. A competent expert should not be quick to completely agree with the attorney’s theories. Firm positions can only come later. An expert quick-on-the-draw may lack the flexibility needed to adjust thinking to new information.

Checklists whittle down the number of candidates considerably. When a telephone call reveals a likely candidate, a résumé should follow. At this point of the search/selection process, the attorney has accomplished what could also have been accomplished at the outset by calling a referral firm.

Expert Referral Firms

Many attorneys prefer this approach because it consumes only a fraction of the in-house search hours, offers a wider choice of experts, and often is the best option when time is short, as when the expert meets the attorney, résumé in hand, at the scene of a disaster to help assess potential liability. Attorneys also prefer this option if they find that their in-house search costs outweigh those of the referral firm.

There are two such types of services — those providing experts in every field and those limited to certain fields (medicine, engineering, testing, etc.). Generally, within 24 hours, these firms can suggest one or more experts who require nothing more than final qualification. At no extra cost, some firms will even make an exhaustive search for some abstruse area of expertise, or search for another expert if scheduling and distance present problems.

Choosing The Expert

Step 5. The final choice comes from the shortened list of experts. Scrutinizing a résumé often reveals decisive information. This merits a follow-up telephone call and, where indicated, a reference check. Some circumstances dictate a personal interview. The attorney can better judge competence and assess demeanor, dress, physical characteristics, nervous habits and lack of objectivity–all important aspects directly related to successful results.


© Expert Resources, Inc.