How to Find an Expert for Your Case
William F. Horsley, a trial lawyer with a law practice in Greensboro, North Carolina, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Modern litigators increasingly rely on expert witnesses to establish or enhance their cases. In cases such as medical negligence, experts are required as a sine qua non to filing suit. In others, such as product liability, they are a practical necessity. Even more routine cases may require expert testimony: A life care planner may be needed to establish the future needs of an injured plaintiff or an economist may be needed to place a present value on those needs. Accident reconstruction engineers are increasingly used in motor vehicle collision cases. Accountants are needed for business evaluations. Sometimes health care professionals are needed for second opinions or to establish causation.
You can find expert witnesses using expert location firms, attorney referrals, jury-verdict reporting services, directories, society membership rosters, trade associations, regulatory bodies, and private consulting firms. Below are some tips for getting started in your search and ways to ensure you find the right expert for your case.
For a fee, an expert location service provides one or more names of experts who meet the criteria you specify. Some services present a case summary to the expert or a set of the appropriate records, and then present the lawyer with a report; some services only provide the name of an expert willing to review the case, leaving it to the lawyer to contact and make financial arrangements with the expert. Using a location service may save time, but drawbacks include paying the service fee in addition to the expert fee, risking losing that money if the expert proves unsatisfactory, and being questioned about the expert’s affiliation with the service at deposition or trial. Some services insist on an exclusivity agreement with the expert, which may create credibility problems.
The “lawyer grapevine” may be the best way to find an expert witness because you get the benefit of the referring lawyer’s experience with the expert. You may be able to find out the expert’s fees and availability for consulting or for testimony before contacting the person. Some legal publications that report on verdicts and settlements will include the names of experts involved in a case. Consider contacting the lawyer who used the expert first to get information on just how useful or effective the expert was.
Many bar associations maintain list serves that allow you to send an email requesting suggestions for experts. Again, the referring lawyer can be consulted for more information about the expert.
Check the technical literature in the field in which you need an expert, and find out who has written on the subject. If there is an intriguing situation, even someone predisposed against involvement in litigation may be induced to serve as an expert.
If you know the specialty the expert needs to have, an Internet search should give you access to organizations related to that specialty. For example, if you need an otolaryngologist, you will find the American Academy of Otolaryngologists (www.entnet.org). From there, you can link to each state, where you will find resumé-like information for each member.
Once you have located a potential expert, always do as much background investigation as possible. In some areas of law, it doesn’t matter how much an expert has testified. A forensic engineer may be in the “testifying business,” but an orthopedic surgeon may be open to impeachment for spending a lot of time as an expert witness.
Always talk to the expert to get a feel for how he or she communicates. Having a diploma or a specific area of expertise doesn’t necessarily mean someone can be an effective expert for your case.
• A Litigator’s Guide to Expert Witnesses. 2006. PC # 5150306. General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Divison. To order online, visit www.ababooks.org